This year, a number of rulings and hearings relating to labor and employment issues were decided at all judicial levels, up to the Supreme Court, that many say will have significant ramifications for employers and benefit plans in the coming years. Take a moment to look back in case and prepare for 2015.
In August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Orion Energy Systems, a public company in the lighting and energy retrofit marketplace, fired an employee after she declined to participate in the Wisconsin companys wellness program. The program required medical examinations, which made disability-related inquiries.
In a landmark challenge to traditional labor law, the National Labor Relations Board said in July that it was planning to lump together McDonalds and its independent franchises as a joint employer in reported employment and labor charges against the fast food company. The move left many questions on what this could mean for collective benefit plan structures and the franchise business model.
In June, retirement plan sponsors and their consultants followed the Supreme Court as it heard oral arguments in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, a case that has implications for the retirement plan industrys fiduciary standard in employee stock ownership plans. The high court found that ESOP fiduciaries were not entitled to a presumption of prudence.
In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Affordable Care Acts premium subsidies are invalid for more than two dozen states due to the laws specific language. The court says subsidies can only be granted to those people who bought insurance in an exchange run by an individual state or the District of Columbia not on the federally run exchange, HealthCare.gov.
This past summer, famed jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. was told it maintained an overly broad confidentiality policy which prohibited employees from disclosing information readily available on employee lists including names, addresses and phone numbers of other employees. Administrative Law Judge Steven Davis, with the National Labor Relations Board, said in August the retailer has too broad of a privacy agreement in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Tiffany was ordered to cease and desist" from maintaining said policy. The ruling also mandated that Tiffany shouldn't hold a broad rule regarding outright prohibition of "unauthorized communication in response to requests or questions by media representatives, Davis said in his Aug. 5 judgment.
In late October, the EEOC launched fresh legal action asking for a temporary restraining order against Honeywell, alleging that wellness programs sponsored by Honeywell violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This was the third such lawsuit in recent months, as earlier in October a similar case was brought against Flambeau for requiring biometic testing and health risk assessments.
The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on a prior class action lawsuit over an employers pension plan management. In Tibble v. Edison International, the plaintiffs contend their ERISA plan fiduciaries breached their duty of prudence by offering higher-cost retail-class mutual funds to 401(k) plan participants, even though identical lower-cost institutional-class mutual funds were available.
The U.S. Supreme Court in November heard arguments in a case with implications for employers that provide retiree health care benefits subject to a collective bargaining agreement. In M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, the so-called Yard-Man presumption, which infers that the duration of retirement health insurance benefits established under a collective bargaining agreement is meant to apply for the lifetimes of covered retirees if the collective bargaining agreement is silent on the issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court ended the year with one challenge that could change the framework of employer pregnancy benefits and associated work accommodations. In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., SCOTUS will answer whether, and in what circumstances, an employer must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees. According to the high courts calendar, the question presented includes a look at whether the same accommodations should be offered to both pregnant and other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
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