Seyfarth Synopsis: Since the days of Buddy the Elf’s short stint as a retail employee, New York City and many other municipalities have adopted predictive scheduling laws. Though California does not yet have a such a law, San Francisco, Emeryville, and San Jose have adopted predictive scheduling ordinances. With the bustling holiday season upon us, covered employers should make sure that they are complying with these ordinances. We highlight here the requirements of these predictive scheduling ordinances while pointing out some of the best ways to ensure compliance with them.

San Francisco’s Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinances. Francisco! That’s Fun to Say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…

Which employers are covered? San Francisco’s Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinances apply to retail establishments with at least 40 locations worldwide and 20 or more employees in San Francisco. The term “retail establishment” is defined loosely to cover many businesses. An employer is considered a retail establishment if it maintains at least two of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized facade, a standardized decor and color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark, or a servicemark. Thus, a food establishment may be considered a retail establishment under the Ordinances. (We know what you are thinking, and no: covered food establishments are not limited to those serving the four main elf food groups—you know, candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.)

In addition to applying to retail establishments, the provisions apply to property services contractors (e.g., janitorial and security services) for work performed in San Francisco at a retail establishment covered by the Ordinances.

What is required under the law? Employers that are covered by San Francisco’s Ordinances are required to do the following:

  • Provide notice:
    • Provide new employees with an initial estimate of their work schedules upon hire. This estimate must include the minimum number of working and on-call shifts the employee can expect to work and the days and hours of those shifts.
    • Provide employees with notice of their work schedules at least two weeks (14 days) in advance.
  • Provide compensation for changes to schedules:
    • If a change is made to an employee’s schedule after the work schedule has been posted, the employer may be required to compensate the employee for the changes. If between 24 hours and seven days remain until the shift, employees are entitled to one hour of pay at regular rate; if employees receive less than 24 hours’ notice, they are entitled to two hours of pay at regular rate for each shift of four hours or less, and four hours of pay at regular rate for each shift of more than four hours.
    • If an employee is scheduled for an on-call shift but is ultimately not required to come into work, then the employee is entitled to two hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate for each shift of four hours or less, and four hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate for each shift of more than four hours.
  • Exceptions: Notice and compensation are not required if a change was needed to address unexpected employee absences due to illness, vacation, or employer-provided time off of which the employer had less than seven days’ notice. Similarly, notice and compensation are not required if a change was needed to address unexpected employee absences due to failure to report to work, termination, or disciplinary action. Similarly, employees are not entitled to notice or compensation when they have to work overtime. To review all of the applicable exceptions, click here.
  • Offer additional work: Before hiring new employees the employer must first offer the additional work to existing qualified part-time employees.
  • Equal treatment: Employers must treat part-time and full-time employees equally with respect to wages, access to time off, and promotion eligibility.

Key Points to Remember About Emeryville’s Fair Workweek Ordinance if You Want to Avoid the Naughty List

Which employers are covered? Emeryville’s Fair Workweek Ordinance applies to retail firms with 56 or more employees globally, and fast food firms with 56 or more employees globally and 20 or more employees within Emeryville. The term “retail firm” is defined narrowly and includes department stores and specialty retailers. A fast food firm is one that does not serve alcohol and that requires patrons to pay before they eat. So if you are serving up the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” in Emeryville, you just might be covered by the City’s Ordinance.

What is required under the law? Employers that are covered by the Emeryville Ordinance must do the following:

  • Provide notice:
    • Provide new employees with an initial estimate of their work schedules upon hire. This estimate must include a good faith estimate of the employee’s work schedule.
    • Provide employees with notice of their work schedules at least two weeks (14 days) in advance.
  • Provide compensation for changes to schedules:
    • If a change is made to an employee’s schedule after the work schedule has been posted, the employer may be required to compensate the employee for the changes. If between 24 hours and 14 days remain until the shift, the employee is entitled to one hour of pay at their regular rate. If less than 24 hours’ notice is provided and the employee’s hours are canceled or reduced, the employee is entitled to four hours or the number of hours in the scheduled shift, whichever is less. Employees are entitled to one hour of pay at their regular rate for all other changes.
  • Exceptions: As with San Francisco’s Ordinances, Emeryville’s Ordinance contains exceptions. Emeryville has far fewer exceptions, however, than San Francisco does. For instance, requiring an employee to work overtime constitutes a change under the Emeryville Ordinance and entitles the employee to additional pay.
  • Offer of additional work: Before hiring new employees, the employer must first offer the additional work to existing qualified part-time employees.
  • Entitlement to rest periods: Employers must not schedule or require an employee to work during rest periods, without the employee’s consent. The rest period includes the first 11 hours after the end of the previous calendar day’s shift and the first 11 hours following the end of a shift that spanned two calendar days. Employees who agree to work during the rest period are entitled to compensation at one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay.

San Jose’s Elf-Sized Predictive Scheduling Ordinance

Though San Jose’s Opportunity to Work Ordinance is not, strictly speaking, a predictive scheduling law, the ordinance does require employers to offer additional work to existing qualified part-time employees before hiring new employees. To learn more about San Jose’s Ordinance, click here.

I Like to Comply, Complying’s My Favorite

Though navigating the San Francisco, Emeryville, and San Jose predictive scheduling ordinances is not as difficult as navigating one’s way through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and out the Lincoln Tunnel, we want to help employers make sure that they are compliant. Here are some tips to help covered employers navigate these predictive scheduling laws:

  • Employers should be sure to keep their employees informed by providing employees with predictive scheduling policies.
  • To the extent possible, employers should try not to change employee schedules after they have been posted. That would be the simplest way to avoid liability under the Emeryville and San Francisco ordinances.
  • At least with respect to covered employees working in San Francisco, employers should minimize or eliminate the use of on-call shifts, except where necessary. Remember, absent limited exceptions, on-call employee who call in and learn their services are not required will be entitled to predictability pay.
  • Though the ordinances do not require communications regarding schedule changes to be in writing, employers would be wise not to solely rely on oral exchanges. It is best to have a signed, written record of schedule receipt and schedule changes.
  • Though the holiday season is an especially busy time for many employers, they should avoid hiring seasonal employees until they have offered the additional hours that they need covered to existing part-time employees.
  • At least in Emeryville, employers should try not to ask employees to work overtime. A covered Emeryville employee who works overtime is not only entitled to compensation at one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay, but also entitled to one hour of predictability pay.

Workplace Solutions

With the holiday season upon us, employers have a lot to do. One important thing to do is to take the time to comply with any predictive scheduling law. Keep in mind that while California is peculiar, it is not the only place where one can find predictive scheduling laws. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Seyfarth to help you determine whether you are a covered employer under any state or municipal predictive scheduling laws.

Edited by Coby Turner.

Seyfarth Synopsis: New statutory obligations for California employers in 2018 will include prohibitions on inquiries into applicants’ salary and conviction histories, expanding CFRA to employees of smaller employers, expansion of mandatory harassment training to include content on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and new immigration-related restrictions and obligations.

California Governor Jerry Brown spent his last day to sign bills in this Legislative Session, October 15, approving and rejecting a number of employment-related bills. Below is our annual summary of those bills that will have—or would have had—the greatest impact on California employers. All approved bills become effective January 1, 2018, unless stated otherwise. Watch this blog for in-depth pieces on the bills below that will pose the most challenges for employers.

APPROVED

Salary Inquiry Ban. After two unsuccessful attempts, AB 168 received the Governor’s approval to make it unlawful in California law for employers, including state and local governments, to ask applicants about their prior salary, compensation, and benefits. The employer may consider prior salary information the applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses, in setting pay. Don’t forget that Labor Code section 1197.5 already prohibits an employer from using an applicant’s salary history, by itself, to justify a pay disparity. AB 168 will also require employers to provide the position’s pay scale to a job applicant upon reasonable request. Read our in-depth piece on AB 168, and practical implications, here. Adds Section 432.3 to the Labor Code.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Governor vetoed the other pay equity bill we were watching, Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act, AB 1209. More on that bill below.

Ban-the-Box: Prior Conviction History of Applicants. With the approval of AB 1008, the Governor and California Legislature have created yet another protected class of individuals entitled to sue employers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act: applicants denied employment because of their conviction history, where the employer is unable to justify relying on that conviction history to deny employment. AB 1008 makes it unlawful for an employer to include questions seeking disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history on any employment application, inquire or consider the conviction history of an applicant before extending a conditional offer employment, or consider or distribute specified criminal history information in conducting a conviction history background check. If an employer intends to deny a position solely or in part because of the applicant’s prior conviction, the employer must make an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the duties of the job, consider certain topics, and allow the applicant to dispute the accuracy of the conviction history. Read our in-depth analysis, implications, and tips, of the “Scarlet Letter Act” here. Adds Section 12952 to the Government Code, and repeals Section 432.9 of the Labor Code.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program. SB 63 extends CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles) and prohibits those employers from refusing to allow employees—with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service—to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. An employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child does need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer can recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees that do not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control. Beginning January 1, 2018 and ending January 1, 2020, the DFEH, after receiving funding from the Legislature, will create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. This bill prohibits an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and tolls the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete, meaning when either party elects not to participate, withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless. Adds Section 12945.6 to the Government Code.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. With the Governor’s October 3 approval of SB 306, the DLSE will be authorized to investigate an employer—with or without a complaint being filed—when, during a wage claim or other investigation, the Labor Commissioner suspects retaliation or discrimination. The bill will also allow the Labor Commissioner or an employee to seek injunctive relief (that the employee be reinstated pending resolution of the claim) upon a mere finding of “reasonable cause” that a violation of the law has occurred. That injunctive relief, however, would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements. Amends Section 98.7 and adds Sections 98.74, 1102.61, and 1102.62 to the Labor Code.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” prohibits employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and prohibits immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill requires an employer to provide notice of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner—to current employees; requires an employer to provide affected employees (i.e., those who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the inspection notice, upon reasonable request; and requires employers to provide affected current employees, and their authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action. The bill grants exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce these provisions and requires that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund. Penalties for failure to satisfy these prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices are: $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation. The Labor Commission may recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each instance an employer re-verifies the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law. Stay tuned for a detailed analysis of AB 450 coming soon. Adds Sections 7285.1, 7285.2, and 7285.3 to the Government Code; adds Sections 90.2 and 1019.2 to the Labor Code.

Harassment Training: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Orientation. SB 396 requires employers with 50 or more employees to add items to already mandated biennial supervisory training to prevent sexual harassment. The new content must include practical examples to address harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Employers must also post a DFEH-developed poster regarding transgender rights. The bill also makes changes to the Unemployment Insurance Code. Amends Sections 12950 and 12950.1 of the Government Code.

VETOED

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209 would (as of July 2019) have required employers with at least 500 California employees to collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees and between male and female Board members. The bill would have required employers to submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5, and to provide an update to the Secretary of State every two years. The bill would have required the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provided it with sufficient funding. Yesterday the Governor vetoed the bill, stating—as many employers’ groups had pointed out—that the bill’s ambiguous wording made it unclear that the bill would “provide data that will meaningfully contribute to efforts to close the gender wage gap. Indeed, I am worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.” He also cited the trust he has placed in his Pay Equity Task Force to provide guidance and recommendations to “assist companies around the state with assessing their current wage practices.” For more detail on implications of this bill had it passed, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Reproductive Health. The Governor vetoed AB 569 on October 15, stating that the FEHA “has long banned such [reproductive health-based] adverse actions, except for religious institutions. I believe those types of claims should remain within the jurisdiction of the [DFEH].” The bill would have added a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would have been subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would have prohibited employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would have required employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in their handbooks.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would have required an employer to provide a free copy of the company’s injury prevention program to an employee, or their representative, within 10 days of receiving a written request. A representative would have included a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, attorney, health and safety professional, nonprofit organization, or immediate family member. AB 978 would have allowed an employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity or the person making the written request and authorized an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense against allegations of violations of these provisions. Governor Brown found this bill to be “unnecessary and duplicative” of current regulatory proposals sitting with the Cal-OSHA Standards Board and noted that their advisory committee would be “better suited to determine how to properly implement requirements of this kind.”

BILLS THAT FAILED TO MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE CUT

Opportunity to Work Act. The notorious AB 5 would have required employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees before the employer could hire additional or temporary employees. This bill piggy-backed on the San Jose voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance that, effective March 2017, would have required employers to offer part-time employees additional hours before hiring new or temporary employees. Read more on what AB 5 would have implemented herehere, and watch here.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would have created an exception to Labor Code section 226.7’s off-duty “rest period” requirement for employers providing emergency medical services to the public. The bill would have allowed EMS employers to require their employees to monitor and respond to emergency response calls during rest or recovery periods without penalty, so long as the rest period is rescheduled.

Retail Employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would have established an employee-selected overtime exemption that would have allowed a “retail industry” employee to work up to 10 hours per day with no overtime pay during the holiday season (November through January). Overtime paid at time and one-half of the employee’s regular pay rate would have applied to over 40 hours worked in a workweek or 10 in a work day; double time would have applied to work over 12 hours per day and over eight hours on the fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek. The bill would have required employees to submit a written request for the flexible work schedule for approval by the employer. The authors of this bill did not specifically define what “retail industry” would have meant.

Overtime Compensation: Executive, Administrative, or Professional Employees. AB 1565 would have exempted an executive, administrative, or professional employee from overtime compensation if the employee earns a monthly salary of $3,956 or at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever is greater. This bill would have had California follow President Obama’s FLSA regulations increasing the yearly salary exempt threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for executive, administrative, and professional workers. (Those regulations have been enjoined by a federal court.)

Health Professional Interns: Minimum Wage. AB 387 would have broadened the definition of employers required to pay minimum wage to include anyone who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., students working clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. This bill would have applied only to a work experiences longer than 100 hours and would not have applied to employers with fewer than 25 allied health professionals or a primary care clinic.

Resident Apartment Manager Wages. AB 543 would have extended an exemption from Industrial Welfare Commission orders allowing employers, who do not charge rent to a resident apartment manager pursuant to a voluntary agreement, to apply up to one-half of the apartment’s fair market value (no value cap) to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. This was up from the two-thirds previously provided but capped at $564.81 per month for singles, $835.49 for couples.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Both AB 353 and its almost identical twin AB 1477 hoped to revise FEHA’s existing Vietnam-Era veterans’ status provision but failed to make it out of both houses and out of the house of origin, respectively. The bills would have expanded a private employer’s authority to institute and uniformly grant a hiring preference for veterans regardless of where the veteran served. The bills stated that the hiring preference would not have violated FEHA or any local or state equal opportunity employment law or regulation. But the bill would have prohibited the use of a veterans’ preference policy for the purpose of discrimination on the basis of any protected classification.

Credit and Debit Card Gratuities. AB 1099 would have required an entity—defined as “an organization that uses online-enabled applications or platforms to connect workers with customers … including, but not limited to, a transportation network company” (e.g., Uber)—to accept tips by credit or debit cards if the entity allows customers to pay with credit or debit cards. The bill would have required that the tip be paid to the worker the next regular payday following the date the customer authorized the card payment. This bill made it out of the Assembly but the author canceled its hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations so we may see this bill again next year.

Labor Organizations: Compulsory Fee Payments. AB 1174 would have established the “California Right to Work Act of 2017” to prohibit a requirement that employees pay into a labor union, charity, or other third party as a condition of employment or continuing employment. This bill would have made California part of the list of 28 other Right to Work states in the nation.

Employer Liability: Small Business and Microbusiness. AB 442 would have prohibited Cal OSHA from bringing any “nonserious violation” against small business or microbusiness employers without first notifying the employer of the violation and the right to cure within 30 days. This safe harbor would not have applied to any willful violation. The impact of this bill would have been far reaching—nearly 70% of California employers employ only a handful of employees.

Good Faith Defense: Employment Violations. SB 524 would have allowed an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of an alleged violation, the employer was acting in good faith when relying upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. This bill would not have applied to the DLSE’s prosecution of payment of unpaid wages.

PAGA: 2017’s Three Failed Efforts. 

AB 281 attempted to reform PAGA by (1) requiring an actual injury for an aggrieved employee to be awarded civil penalties, (2) excluding health and safety violations from the employer right to cure provisions, and (3) increasing employers’ cure period to 65 calendar days, up from 33.

AB 1429 would have limited the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, required the employee to follow specific procedures prior to filing suit, limited civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and excluded the recovery of filing fees, and required the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would have required the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) to investigate alleged Labor Code violations and issue a citation or determination regarding a reasonable basis for a claim within 120 calendar days; and allow an employee private action only after the LWDA’s reasonable basis notification or the expiration of the 120 day period. Read our further analysis of the proposed PAGA amendments here.

Workplace Solutions.

For more information on how these new Peculiarities might affect your company, read our in-depth focus blogs and contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

(Photo) SF StreetBy Laura Maechtlen and Jason Allen

As our loyal CalPecs blog readers know, in November 2014, San Francisco passed two ordinances—“Hours and Retention Protections for Formula Retail Employees” and “Fair Scheduling and Treatment of Formula Retail Employees”—colloquially known, together, as the “San Francisco Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights.”  (Our most recent update and a recent Management Alert can be found here and here, respectively.)  On July 7, 2015, the S.F. Board of Supes proved that the Bill of Rights is a living document by passing an amendment to the SF Workers’ Bill of Rights on the final reading.

Most significantly, the amendment changes the definition of employers covered by the ordinances.  The amendment also modifies some of the requirements imposed on employers and clarifies some open enforcement issues.  The Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (“OLSE”) has posted information about the amendment here and here, and the text of the amendment here. In short: Continue Reading Changes to the S.F. Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinances

ABC Soup

 

California legislators and regulators continue their efforts to expand employee protections, and the IRS permits a temporary subsidy for separating employees who want to sample the small business exchanges for health care.  Read on for highlights.

 

 

San Francisco Retail Workers Bill Of Rights Redux: The State Legislature Is Cooking Up Trouble Outside Of San Francisco

By Kristen Verrastro and Jason Allen

The same old soup, just reheated?  State Assemblymember né San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu, along with Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber, recently introduced statewide legislation called the Fair Scheduling Act (AB 357), a bill meant to provide more predictable and stable work schedules to food and retail workers throughout California.  The full language of AB 357 has not yet been released, but the bill is expected to require food and retail establishments with 500 or more California employees to give at least two weeks’ notice of employee scheduling and provide extra pay for schedule changes made last minute.

As our loyal CalPecs blog readers know, San Francisco recently passed two ordinances—“Hours and Retention Protections for Formula Retail Employees” and “Fair Scheduling and Treatment of Formula Retail Employees”—which, together, are informally known as the “San Francisco Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights.”  (Click here, here, here, and here for our previous coverage.)  Then-Supervisor Chiu introduced the latter of the two ordinances.  Is Assemblymember Chiu simply modifying his recipe for statewide consumption?

Stay tuned and we will keep you posted as more information is released about this proposed legislation.

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This just posted by our Seyfarth Shaw’s Environmental and Safety Law Update:

CA Proposes New Workplace Violence Regulations for Health Care Employers, Home Health Providers and Emergency Responders

By Meagan Newman, Brent I. Clark, and Mark A. Lies, II

A draft proposed regulation from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) would require health-care employers, home health and hospice providers and emergency responders to develop workplace violence-prevention plans, train their employees and keep records related to workplace violence incidents.  To read on, click here.

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The Separation Anxiety Continues, But A New IRS Regulation Answers One Question

By Dana Howells and Ben Conley

On February 18, we noted in this space (“Separation Anxiety:  The ABCs of Affordable Care Act & Covered California at Separation From Employment”) that employers are prohibited, in almost every instance, from reimbursing employees for individual health insurance premiums (either through the Covered California marketplace or otherwise).  This is in stark contrast to employers subsidizing COBRA, which is not only permitted but encouraged by being tax free to employers and employees (subject to IRS rules prohibiting discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees, where applicable).  Wouldn’t you know it, the same day we published, the IRS released additional guidance relaxing this limitation for some employers, albeit temporarily.

Specifically, the IRS created a limited transition period during which small employers (generally, those with no more than 50 full-time equivalent employees) may reimburse employees (or former employees) on a pre-tax basis for individual insurance market premiums.  The transition relief only extends through the end of 2015 when, as the IRS notes, the small business exchanges should be operating more smoothly, which provides an alternative to this practice.

For larger employers wishing to subsidize individual exchange coverage for departing employees, options are limited and complex.  Plans covering fewer than two participants who are current employees on the first day of the plan year are exempt from these prohibitions (meaning a plan covering only former employees could reimburse those former employees for individual insurance premiums).  Employers exploring this approach should exercise caution to ensure they have established a truly separate ERISA plan (including a plan document, summary plan description and, although unlikely, an annual report where applicable) to cover this population.  The exemption is not available if the reimbursements are treated as part of the active employee health plan (either intentionally or by default because the employer failed to establish a separate plan).