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Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Senators are considering a tax on employer-sponsored health insurance plans to raise revenue.  It is not my intention to discuss the politics of this proposal, and instead, I write to consider how such a proposal would alter the economics of recruiting and retaining employees.
 
Until now, it went without question that those who secured health insurance through their employers did so on a pre-tax basis.  Employers, for their part, can deduct the cost.  This incentivizes employers to offer health insurance coverage to employees as part of a compensation package.  Health benefits are hugely important to employees when deciding whether to accept new positions.  As such, these plans are powerful recruitment and retention tools. 

In my practice, time and again, I hear that talented and experienced employees do not want to leave their current employment, not because of well-drafted restrictive covenants (as many employers believe), but because of their compensation package, that includes health insurance.  Spouses and children may have medical conditions that require care, and employees resist the stress of leaving behind good coverage for new jobs or self-employment. Employees believe, in many cases correctly, that the cost of health insurance is cheaper through employer-subsidized plans than in the individual market, and that they can get better coverage for their dollar through their employer. 

This is particularly true right now, as the healthcare debate rages on, and employees feel insecure about how their health insurance will work in the future.  The Senate’s proposal would remove a tool from an employer’s recruitment arsenal, and dramatically change the economics of recruiting and retaining talented employees.  Of course, employers have other tools, and should not rely totally on health insurance, but it is hard to overstate the importance of this coverage to employees.  The implementation of such a tax would mean that employers would need to reconfigure compensation packages and rethink the manner in which they provide health insurance coverage to employees.

Lawmakers have referred to the tax-favored treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance plans as discriminatory to those who purchase their health insurance individually.  Interestingly, removing these tax protections would also remove the incentive for employers to provide such healthcare.  It would be interesting to know from these lawmakers if that is what they intend.  A move away from employer-sponsored health insurance does not just change the economics of the employment relationship; it changes the economics of healthcare. 

Of course, the healthcare debate impacts employer / employee relationships even as the status of the Affordable Care Act and employer-sponsored health insurance remains unclear.  It is simply impossible for employers, or for their lawyers for that matter, to plan for changes in healthcare while proposals are floated and then rejected by lawmakers.  However, the proposal to end the tax-favored treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance would mark a radical change.  It will be interesting to see if it makes its way out of the pages of the Wall Street Journal. 

Jessica Pritchard, Vice President/President Elect, and David Truelove, President, Bucks County Bar Association at Opening of Assizes.

AMM congratulates our 2017 Super Lawyer and Rising Star attorneys named in Pennsylvania Super Lawyers listing by Thomson Reuters.

Jessica Pritchard, chair of the firm’s Family Law practice group, was named one of the “Top 50 Women” attorneys by the publishers of Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine. Ms. Pritchard has been included in the Super Lawyer listing for the past three years. 

Elizabeth Fineman, an associate in our Family Law department, was named a 2017 Rising Star by the same publication for the fifth year. 

Both Pritchard and Fineman concentrate their practices exclusively in Family Law.
 
Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. To learn more, please visit www.superlawyers.com.

Lisa Gaier was honored in the  "Salute to Women Who Make A Difference" by the Bucks County YWCA May 11th,  2017. 

Friday, 19 May 2017 16:59

Speaking of Overtime Rules ….

Written by Patricia Collins

Let’s check in with the January 2017 case filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas challenging the Obama Administration’s proposed changes to overtime regulations.  Those regulations would have required employers to reclassify many employees considered exempt from overtime rules to non-exempt status, requiring the employer to now pay overtime to those employees. The rule was widely considered a boon to employees, but a burden for small businesses and nonprofits. 

Those rules would have required that in addition to meeting certain requirements with regard to an employee’s duties, the employee must also earn a minimum salary of $47,476 to qualify for “exempt” status.  The current rule requires that the employee earn a minimum salary of $23,660.  The dramatic increase in the salary requirement caused employers to reevaluate classifications and to generate new policies regarding overtime and work hours in advance of a December 1, 2016 deadline.

As previously discussed on this blog, on November 22, 2016, the Eastern District of Texas entered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the new rules.  Many clients have asked me, dreading the answer, whether that injunction remains in place.  On December 1, 2016, the United States Department of Labor appealed the injunction order, and sought a stay of the Court’s order prohibiting enforcement.  The Court denied the stay, and the matter is now on appeal.  During the appeal, the Department of Labor cannot enforce the new rules.  The appeals court granted a request submitted by the Department of Justice to extend time to file appellate briefs while “incoming leadership personnel” considered the issues.  That brief is now due on June 30. 

The Trump Administration has three choices: defend the rule, withdraw the rule, or rewrite the rule.  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has telegraphed that a review of the rule was necessary, but that the salary increase was too dramatic.  However, the Department of Labor’s repeated requests for extensions to file a brief indicate that it is not necessarily an easy call.  For example, because the Eastern District’s order granting the injunction called into question the rulemaking authority of the Department of Labor, there may be good reason for the administration to challenge the court’s injunction order, even though it does not necessarily agree with the rule. 

The overtime rules will remain in limbo until at least June 30, 2017.  We will continue to monitor the situation.  In the meantime, employers are not required to change their overtime policies or the classifications of their employees. 
 

Sue Maslow has been named Vice Chair of the ABA Subcommittee of the Business Law Section Drafting Human Rights Protections in Supply Contracts.  Ms. Maslow, a highly experienced business and transactional attorney, and a founding partner of the firm, is  well versed in this rapidly developing and evolving area of the law.  A number of high profile cases in recent years have illustrated the potential for serious financial and reputational consequences to multinational companies who disregard initiatives in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and California, and fail to consider and understand the relevance of anti-forced labor and minor labor laws in their international transactions.

By Patricia Collins, Esquire
 

On May 2, 2017, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act.  The purpose of the Act is to give employees flexibility in how they choose to be paid for overtime: in wages or in compensatory time off.  The Act crystallizes a tension I see often in my representation of employers. 

 Presently, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to pay nonexempt employees overtime compensation for work hours in excess of 40 in a workweek.  Employers cannot compensate employees for those overtime hours in compensatory time off (“comp time”).  Such a policy violates the FLSA, exposing the employer to liability for the unpaid overtime hours as well as penalties and attorney’s fees.

 The FLSA prohibition against payment in comp time is intended to protect employees from abusive overtime demands by employers.  The statutory obligation to pay additional wages for hours over forty in a workweek, so the argument goes, forces the employer to base the decision to require overtime hours on business and financial considerations.  The FLSA’s ban on comp time legislates a policy determination that offering comp time will not protect employees from abusive demands by employers.

 Republicans this week argued otherwise.  They argue that permitting employees to take comp time rather than payment for overtime work gives employees flexibility.    Democrats who opposed the bill countered that the Act’s provision allowing employers the final say does not adequately protect employees. 

 Practically, the Act sits at the tipping point of many competing considerations:  employers want to establish policies that comply with the law, protect the business, and benefit employees.  Employees want flexibility, but they also need to be paid for their work.  The reality is that banked comp time can be a liability for employers because there are jobs for which attendance is extremely important, and unscheduled or unpredictable time is off is sometimes expensive or interferes with the progress of work.  Further, employees might not be free to use that comp time in the manner they would like if it interferes with the employer’s business.  Most employers offer paid time off in a set amount, in order to create predictability as to an employee’s attendance.  While this proposed rule might create flexibility and reduce overtime costs, I do wonder whether it is really a savings in the long run. 

 It will be interesting to see how the Senate balances these concerns, and whether employers will create policies that allow comp time.  The bill now goes to the Senate – no word yet on whether they will vote on it. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 6th, you can support Bucks County Opportunity Council, a great local organization whose mission is to reduce poverty and partner with our community to promote economic self-sufficiency.  Antheil Maslow & MacMinn are proud to sponsor this event, please consider attending and supporting this very effective organization and the work they do.  

Changing Lives - Frolic on the Farm

A benefit to move people from poverty to self-sufficiency

May 6, 2017 - 6 pm to 10 pm

Glen Oaks Farm

6871 Upper York Road, New Hope, PA 18963

To purchase tickets -  Changing Lives

For more information about the event, contact Joe Cuozzo at 215-345-8175 x 204 or jcuozzo@bcoc.org.

 

By Patricia Collins

Reprinted with permission from the February 28th edition of the The Legal Intelligencer © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.Further duplication without permission is prohibited

The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in Metalico Pittsburgh v. Newman, et al (No. 354 WDA 2016, April 19, 2017), dealt a blow to employees attempting to avoid the application of a non-solicitation covenant. 

In Metalico, two employees, Newman and Medred, executed employment agreements containing a covenant not to solicit customers, suppliers and employees during the “Post-Employment Period.”  The Post-Employment Period varied depending upon the manner of the termination of employment, and commenced upon the last day of employment with Metalico.  At the end of the three-year period, Metalico terminated the employment agreements, but continued to retain Newman and Medred as “at-will” employees, and recited new compensation and other terms of employment.  These terms differed from those contained in the employment agreement.  Newman and Medred were terminated one year later.  Metalico filed suit against Newman and Medred, alleging that they were violating the non-solicitation covenant in their subsequent employment. 

On the eve of a preliminary injunction hearing, Newman and Medred filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, arguing that the employment agreements containing the non-solicitation covenants had terminated, and therefore the non-solicitation provisions no longer applied.  They argued that the agreement to continue as “at-will” employees acted as a novation of the employment agreement.

The trial court agreed with Newman and Medred, and granted their motion for partial summary judgment.  But the Superior Court did not agree.  Instead, the Superior Court found that the covenant remained in place pursuant to a survival provision in the employment agreement.  That provision stated that if employment under the agreement “expires,” the agreement continues in effect “as is necessary or appropriate to enforce” the non-solicitation covenant. 

The trial court found that upon converting Newman’s and Medred’s status to “at will” employees, the parties had stated new terms for the employment relationship going forward.  In so doing, the parties did not recite that the non-solicitation provision would stay in place.  The failure to continue the compensation and benefits provided in the employment agreement, in the trial court’s view, invalidated the non-solicitation covenant.  The trial court justly noted: “Metalico cannot claim the benefits of its bargain while denying its employees the same.” 

The Superior Court disagreed, noting that because the survival language was included in the employment agreement, it constituted the bargained-for benefit for the employees.  The Superior Court rejected any argument that there was a failure of consideration, because failure of consideration only applies if the consideration was never received – the employees here did receive three years of the promised compensation and benefits under the agreement.  The Superior Court refused to find that the parties to the employment agreement intended to terminate and extinguish the previous agreement, thus extinguishing the non-solicitation covenant as well.  In so doing, the Superior Court relied upon Boyce v. Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Co., 580 A.2d 1382 (Pa. Super. 1990).  However, the Boyce case dealt with the use of the restrictive covenant as a defense to a claim raised by the employee.

It is well-settled that restrictive covenants in employment agreements are disfavored under Pennsylvania law.  Courts, including the Superior Court, have refused to enforce such agreements on technicalities.  For example, in Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc., 99 A.3d 928 (Pa. Super. 2014), the Superior Court refused to enforce a covenant not to compete in an employment agreement entered into after the commencement of employment and not accompanied by any beneficial change in the employee’s status, but which recited that it was signed “under seal” under the Uniform Written Obligations Act.  The Court found that a seal does not provide adequate consideration to enforce a restrictive covenant.  Instead, the Superior Court noted, there must be “actual valuable consideration.”  The holding in Socko left employment law practitioners and litigators with the belief that there are no “gotchas” when it comes to restrictive covenants. 

Metalico appears to change that.  Metalico voluntarily agreed to let the employment agreement terminate and to continue employment on an “at-will” basis.  This change of status benefits Metalico, leaving it free to terminate the employees or change their compensation and benefits at will (thus the name) and without concern about the terms of a written agreement.  The employees lost these protections.  The practical result of the Superior Court’s holding is that the employees lost the protections of the agreement, but retained their post-employment obligations.  This is inconsistent with Pennsylvania’s historical animosity towards these restrictive covenants, and appears to truly represent a “gotcha” for these employees. 

Metalico expands the universe of enforceable restrictive covenants.  This is not an uncommon fact pattern, and one which might have given an employer’s attorney pause prior to filing for a preliminary injunction in the past.  The holding could have the impact of reducing the care required in drafting, terminating and enforcing disfavored restrictive covenants, and eliminating some of the defenses available to employees seeking to avoid the covenant.  Interestingly, nowhere in the opinion does the Superior Court recite the oft-cited language that such covenants are disfavored in the law.  It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court takes the opportunity to do so on appeal. 

Patricia Collins is a Partner with Antheil Maslow & MacMinn, LLP, based in Doylestown, PA. Her practice focuses primarily on commercial litigation, employment and health care law. To learn more about the firm or Patricia Collins, visit www.ammlaw.com.

Lisa Gaier will be honored by the YWCA Bucks County as a 2017 "Woman Who Makes a Difference" at the organization's 26th Annual Awards Celebration on May 11th.  Ms. Gaier is being recognized for her many personal, professional and volunteer activities which improve the lives of others and make Bucks County a great place to live.

Lisa Gaier practices in the firm’s Family Law and Estates and Trusts groups. In her Domestic Relations practice, Ms. Gaier advises clients on a variety of issues, including divorce, adoption, child support, alimony/spousal support, equitable distribution and child custody matters. As part of the Estates and Trusts group, Lisa is involved with estate planning including the drafting of Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills, as well as assisting with estate administration and Orphans’ Court matters, with a particular emphasis on guardianships.”