Our colleague David A. Clark at Epstein Becker Green was recently quoted in The New York Times, in “Did Your Doctor Disappear Without a Word? A Noncompete Clause Could Be the Reason,” by Michelle Andrews. Read more about the article here.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights published legal enforcement guidance defining an individual’s right to wear “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such a locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” The guidance applies to workplace grooming and appearance policies “that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles”:
[W]hile an employer can impose requirements around maintaining a work appropriate appearance, [employers] cannot enforce such policies in a discriminatory manner and/or target specific hair textures or hairstyles. Therefore, a grooming policy to maintain a ‘neat and orderly’ appearance that prohibits locs or cornrows is discriminatory against Black people because it presumes that these hairstyles, which are commonly associated with Black people, are inherently messy or disorderly. This type of policy is also rooted in racially discriminatory stereotypes about Black people, and racial stereotyping is unlawful discrimination under the [New York City Human Rights Law].
A grooming or appearance policy prohibiting natural hair and/or treated/untreated hairstyles to conform to the employer’s expectations “constitutes direct evidence of disparate treatment based on race” in violation of the City’s Human Rights Law. Examples of such policies include:
- A grooming policy prohibiting twists, locs, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, or fades which are commonly associated with Black people.
- A grooming policy requiring employees to alter the state of their hair to conform to the company’s appearance standards, including having to straighten or relax hair (i.e, use of chemicals or heat).
- A grooming policy banning hair that extends a certain number of inches from the scalp thereby limiting Afros.
Workplace policies prohibiting natural hair and/or treated/untreated hairstyles may not be implemented “to promote a certain corporate image, because of a customer preference, or under the guise of speculative health or safety concerns.” Where there is a legitimate health or safety concern, alternative ways to address the concern (e.g., hair ties, nets, head coverings and alternative safety equipment) must be considered before imposing a ban or restriction on the employee’s hairstyle.
Employers within New York City should review their workplace grooming and appearance policies to ensure compliance with the newly issued legal enforcement guidance.
Health care providers and custodial agencies operating in Illinois are now subject to new obligations under the Health Care Violence Prevention Act (210 ILCS 160/1 et seq.)(“HCVPA”), which went into effect on January 1, 2019. The HCVPA, which was enacted in response to two 2017 incidents involving inmates who assaulted hospital nurses, seeks to reduce the growing rates of violence against health care workers.
The HCVPA establishes both preventive and curative measures to protect health care workers. Health care providers are required to create an OSHA-compliant workplace violence prevention program. Each program must include:
(1) descriptions of the four classifications of workplace violence under the HCVPA;
(2) commitment by management and health care worker participation;
(3) worksite analysis and identification of potential hazards;
(4) hazard prevention and control;
(5) safety and health training (with required hours determined by rule); and
(6) recordkeeping and evaluation of the violence prevention program.
Hospitals and retail health care facilities are also required to provide resources to workers harmed by patients or their associates. Under the HCVPA’s guidelines, workers directly involved in an incident of workplace violence caused by a patients or their visitors have a right to employer-provided services, including acute treatment and access to psychological evaluation. Additionally, employers of health care workers must post notices in their facilities that detail zero tolerance for verbal aggression or physical assault. Notices must also inform violators that any physical assault will be reported to law enforcement. Rules detailing the requirements of the Notice (including size, format, etc.) have not yet been promulgated and no template Notice is currently available. The HCVPA prohibits management from preventing workers from reporting workplace violence to law enforcement, and any worker that contacts law enforcement or files a report with law enforcement must notify management of the underlying incident within three days. (Pursuant to 45 C.F.R. 164.512 (f)(5) and (j)(1), employees likely would not violate their obligations under HIPAA in directly reporting such an incident to law enforcement). A whistleblower provision further protects employees seeking to ensure the Act is enforced.
Hospitals and health care facilities are encouraged to collaborate with custodial agencies like the Department of Corrections to establish a protocol for committed patients that require treatment outside of custody. Custodial agencies must also comply with new guidelines under the law. Among these rules, custodial agencies must notify hospitals or medical treatment facilities of any significant medical, mental health, or violent safety concerns regarding a committed patient. Additionally, the HCVPA tasks custodial agencies with ensuring that guards or escorts accompany high-risk committed patients and that committed patients have the most comprehensive medical records practicable. The HCVPA also requires the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board to establish curriculum for custodial agency training.
Health care providers are encouraged to post the required notices and update/create policies that comply with the HCVPA while awaiting additional rules and regulations from Illinois lawmakers.
The U.S. Department of Justice reached a January 31, 2019 settlement of an American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) Title III complaint against health care provider Selma Medical Associates relating to provision of medical services to an individual with opioid use disorder (“OUD”). The settlement is notable for health care providers and employers as it makes clear that DOJ considers OUD as a disability under the ADA thereby triggering the full panoply of ADA rights for those with OUD.
The DOJ complaint was premised on the alleged refusal of Selma Medical to schedule a new patient family practice appointment after the patient disclosed he takes Suboxone. Suboxone is a prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating OUD. The complaint further alleged that Selma refused to treat patients with narcotic controlled substances, including Suboxone, thus imposing “eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out individuals with OUD.” The compliant also alleged a failure to make reasonable accommodations to policies, practices or procedures when necessary “to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities.”
Under the settlement, Selma agreed to:
- Not discriminate or deny services on the basis of disability, including OUD;
- Not use eligibility standards, criteria or methods of administration that tend to deny benefits on the basis of disability including OUD;
- To modify its policies as necessary;
- To draft and submit within 30 days for DOJ approval a non-discrimination policy and to remove any inappropriate existing policies;
- After DOJ approval, to adopt and disseminate to all employees the new non-discrimination policy;
- To train all management and employees within 60 days and annually for three years as to the new policy and ADA compliance with the initial training conducted live, with a Q&A opportunity, and by a trainer to be approved by DOJ;
- Submit compliance reports to DOJ for three years; and
- To pay compliant $30,000 in damages and a civil penalty to the U.S. of $10,000.
The DOJ-Selma Medical settlement is highly significant in an environment where in 2015, OUD affected 2 million people aged 12 and over (Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol. 169, Dec. 2016, pp. 117-127) and .6 million persons aged 12 or over had heroin use disorder (id.) and the lifetime percentage of individuals with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV prescription OUD among adults 18 and over had more than doubled from 1.4% in 2001-2002 to 2.9% in 2012-2013 (id.), and likely higher today. And, of course, this does not include those who are OUD for reasons other than prescriptions. This means that health care providers are highly likely to encounter significant numbers of potentially challenging OUD patients. DOJ has now made clear that providing the full range of care and services to such patients is required under the ADA – and that any failure to do so can lead to litigation, costly settlements and adverse publicity.
All employers, not just health care providers, should take note of this settlement as it clearly means that employers will also need to reasonably accommodate employees who seek time off for treatment or other accommodations unless the employer cannot show the requested accommodations would be an undue hardship.
The Selma Medical settlement is also a reminder that health care providers should make sure they have appropriate non-discrimination policies in place as required pursuant to Health and Human Services regulations for compliance under Title III of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the non-discrimination requirements of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. We can assist with any questions regarding the required policies and other issues as to compliance with the ADA, the Rehab Act and Section 1557.
In a major decision sure to provoke controversy and legislative attempts to overrule it, the en banc Seventh Circuit, by a vote of 8 to 4, has held in Kleber v. CareFusion Corp., (No. 17-1206, Jan 23, 2019), that Section 4(a)(2) of the federal Age Discrimination In Employment Act (“ADEA”) does not provide rejected external applicants with a cause of action.
The case was brought by Dale Kleber, a 58 year old applicant who applied for a position at CareFusion. The job description allegedly “required applicants to have ‘3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years)’” of relevant experience.
The Court focused closely on the text on §4(a)(2) which makes it unlawful for an employer:
to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s age.
29 U.S.C. §623(a)(2).
The majority noted that by its express terms, §4(a)(2) “proscribes certain conduct by employer(s) and limits its protection to employees.” The majority finds the ADEA protections of the Section apply only to those with “status as an employee.” The majority also notes that Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in 1972 expressly to cover “applicants for employment” but never passed legislation expressly to cover applicants in §4(a)(2) of the ADEA.
The decision of the Seventh Circuit applies only to federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. But as an en banc decision (a decision by all the active judges of the Court) it may be given some greater consideration by other courts. Employers facing ADEA hiring discrimination claims by non-employee applicants, may want to consider a motion to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings relying on Kleber or to assert the defense in appropriate EEOC proceedings.
It is by no means certain, however, that other courts will reach the same conclusion as the Seventh Circuit. It is also likely that EEOC will not follow this decision outside the Seventh Circuit. And as noted at the outset, a legislative effort to reverse the result of Kleber by amending §4(a)(2) expressly to cover applicants is highly likely. Such a proposal might well pass in the House of Representatives. Its fate in the Senate, however, would be more problematic. In addition, whether President Trump would sign such a bill, if it did pass, is open to conjecture.
In addition, employers should be aware that they certainly may face the same applicant age discrimination claims by outside applicants premised on state and local human rights laws. Such state and local laws generally do not have limiting language like that upon which the Seventh Circuit based its decision in Kleber. Moreover, while employers often prefer federal to state courts, Kleber may encourage age discrimination plaintiffs who are applicants simply to sue under state law in state courts.
Despite Kleber, employers should still take care not to provide outside applicants with a basis for asserting age discrimination in hiring claims under state or local laws with broader language covering such applicants or in federal courts that choose not to follow Kleber. This is especially true as there is already putative class litigation challenging employers and social media platforms and hiring sites that allegedly target or limit notices of particular job openings to those in certain age bands. Consulting with employment counsel about such candidate sourcing activities and the effects of Kleber may be prudent at this point in time.
In the November 2018 mid-term elections, state ballot measures for the legalization of marijuana were approved in three states – Michigan, Missouri, and Utah – and rejected in one state – North Dakota.
Michigan is now the 10th state in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana under certain conditions. Michigan residents approved Proposal 1, allowing for recreational marijuana to be consumed, purchased, or cultivated by those 21 and over. The new law went into effect December 6, 2018, but the commercial system will not be running for another year. The law imposes a 10% tax on marijuana sales and will create a licensure system for dispensaries. The law does not require an employer to permit or accommodate recreational use of marijuana, nor does it prohibit an employer from refusing to hire, discharging, disciplining, or taking any other adverse action because of the violation of a workplace drug policy or working under the influence.
In Missouri, voters rejected two of three proposals regarding marijuana, but approved a ballot measure (Amendment 2) to allow for medical marijuana to be sold at a 4% tax. Notably, all three measures would have allowed for medical marijuana, but each measure varied in terms of tax, from 2% to 15%. The 4% tax will be used to sponsor veteran’s health issues.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will implement the law’s provisions, which will take all of 2019. Medical marijuana is not expected to be available for purchase until January 2020. While the law provides certain protections for patients, medical providers, and caregivers, the law does not permit a private right of action against an employer for wrongful discharge, discrimination, or any similar cause of action based on the employer’s prohibition of the employee being under the influence of marijuana while at work or for disciplining or discharging an employee for working or attempting to work while under the influence.
Utah voters approved Proposition 2, a medicinal marijuana proposal. Proposition 2, which was opposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was altered by legislation – the Utah Medical Cannabis Act (HB 3001) – after the election. On December 3, HB 3001 passed the legislature and was signed by Governor Gary Hebert. The bill stripped certain provisions of Proposition 2: patients who live more than 100 miles from a dispensary may not grow their own marijuana; patients must purchase medical marijuana through a state- or privately-run dispensary (the number of which has been reduced); and dispensaries must employee pharmacists to recommend dosages. In addition, HB 3001 added nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and high-ranking social workers to the list of health care workers that can recommend medical marijuana. HB 3001 is already the subject to two lawsuits, but currently it is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2019.
Under the new Utah law, a patient cannot be discriminated against in the provision of medical care due to lawful use of medical marijuana, and the state may not discriminate against such users in employment. The new law, however, does not address medical marijuana use in the context of private employment. But employers may need to treat medical marijuana users the same as they treat employees with disabilities under state law, because the underlying conditions qualifying for medical marijuana use also qualify as disabilities under state law.
* * *
Employers and health care professionals should be ready to handle issues that arise with the potential conflict between state and federal law in devising compliance, both in terms of reporting and human resources issues. States continue to consider – and pass – legislation to legalize marijuana (both medicinal and recreational), and we are marching toward 50-state legalization. Almost all organizations – and particularly those with multi-state operations – must review and evaluate their current policies with respect to marijuana use by employees and patients.
Two recent federal cases illustrate why employers – even federal contractors – must be cognizant of relevant state-law pronouncements regarding the use of marijuana (i.e., cannabis) by employees. While one case found in favor of the employer, and the other in favor of the employee, these decisions have emphasized that state law protections for users of medical marijuana are not preempted by federal laws such as the Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA). Employers must craft a thoughtful and considered approach to marijuana in the workplace, and in most cases should not take a zero-tolerance approach to marijuana.
Ninth Circuit Finds in Favor of Employer Who Discharged Employee for Positive Drug Test
In Carlson v. Charter Communication, LLC, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by an employee who alleged discrimination under the Montana Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) because he was discharged for testing positive for marijuana use. The plaintiff, a medical marijuana cardholder under Montana state law, tested positive for THC (a cannabinoid) after an accident in a company-owned vehicle. His employer, a federal contractor required to comply with the DFWA, terminated his employment because the positive test result violated its employment policy.
The District Court of Montana held that the employer was within its rights to discharge the plaintiff because (1) the DFWA preempts the MMA on the issue of whether a federal contractor can employ a medical marijuana user; and (2) the MMA does not provide employment protections to medical marijuana cardholders. Indeed, the MMA specifically states that employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana, and the Act does not permit a cause of action against an employer for wrongful discharge or discrimination. The Ninth Circuit rejected this rationale. Because the MMA does not prevent employers from prohibiting employees from using marijuana and does not permit employees for suing for discrimination or wrongful termination, the Ninth Circuit held that the MMA does not preclude federal contractors from complying with the DFWA and thus found no conflict.
The plaintiff asserted that the provisions of the MMA exempting employers from accommodating registered users and prohibiting such users from bringing wrongful discharge or discrimination lawsuits against employers are unconstitutional and sought certification of the question to the Montana Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit rejected this request because, it determined, the Montana Supreme Court already decided the issue. The MMA and the specific sections challenged by the plaintiff appropriately balance Montana’s legitimate state interest in regulating access to a controlled substance while avoiding entanglement with federal law, which classifies the substance as illegal.
Plaintiff Wins Summary Judgment Against Employer That Rescinded Job Offer Due to Positive Test
If federal law does not preempt state law on the issue of marijuana, then in certain states – like Connecticut – employers will be more susceptible to discrimination claims from marijuana users. In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, the District of Connecticut granted summary judgment to a plaintiff-employee of Bride Brook Nursing & Rehabilitation Center who used medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and whose offer was rescinded for testing positive for THC during a post-offer drug screen. Plaintiff filed a discrimination claim under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (“PUMA”), which makes it illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a person or discharge, penalize, or threaten an employee “solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver.”
We covered a previous decision in this case, in which the court held that PUMA is not preempted by the federal Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”). The decision was notable then for being the first federal decision to hold that the CSA does not preempt a state medical marijuana law’s anti-discrimination provision, a departure from a previous federal decision in New Mexico.
In this recent decision, the District Court again considered whether PUMA was preempted by federal law. In ruling for the Plaintiff, the court rejected Bride Brook’s argument that its practices fall within an exception to PUMA’s anti-discrimination provision because they are “required by federal law or required to obtain federal funding.” Bride Brook argued that in order to comply with DFWA, which requires federal contractors to make a good faith effort to maintain a drug-free workplace, it could not hire plaintiff because of her failed pre-employment drug-test. The court was not persuaded, concluding that the DFWA does not require drug testing, nor does it prohibit federal contractors from employing people who use illegal drugs outside the workplace. The court noted that simply because Bride Brook’s zero-tolerance policy went beyond the requirements of the DFWA does not mean that hiring the plaintiff would violate the Act.
The court also rejected Bride Brook’s argument that the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”) prohibits employers from hiring marijuana users because doing so would amount to defrauding the federal government. Because no federal law prohibits employers from hiring individuals who use medicinal marijuana outside of work, employers do not defraud the government by hiring those individuals.
Lastly, the court rejected the theory that PUMA only prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s registered status and not the actual use of marijuana, as such a holding would undermine the very purpose for which the employee obtained the status.
What These Decisions Mean for Employers
These decisions are notable for the fact that the federal courts refused to find the state laws were preempted by federal law. Importantly, neither found that the DFWA preempts state law, which means that even federal contractors must be aware of and follow state law with respect to marijuana use by employees. Thus, in states in which employers may not discriminate against medical marijuana users – such as Connecticut – all employers must take care not to make adverse employment decisions based solely on off-duty marijuana use and, in certain states, must accommodate medical marijuana use. A majority of states and the District of Columbia now permit the use of medical marijuana; employers, including federal contractors, should be mindful of these statutes and consult with counsel to ensure their employment policies are compliant.
The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has released Notice 2018-94, which extends the due date for furnishing the 2018 Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C to individuals from January 31, 2019 to March 4, 2019.
This extension is automatic, and, as a result, the IRS will not formally respond to any pending extension requests for furnishing the forms to individuals. In addition, filers do not need to submit a request or documentation to take advantage of this extension. Despite the extension, the IRS is encouraging employers and other coverage providers to furnish the 2018 statements as soon as they are able.
Forms 1095-B are used to report whether individuals have minimum essential coverage (“MEC”) and, therefore, are not liable for the individual shared responsibility payment. Forms 1095-C are used to report information about offers of health coverage and enrollment in health coverage for employees, to determine whether an employer owes an employer shared responsibility payment, and to determine the eligibility of employees for the premium tax credit. Under the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA’s”) employer mandate, applicable large employers (“ALEs”) (those employing on average at least 50 full-time employees and full-time equivalents in the prior calendar year), are required to offer MEC to at least 95% of their full-time employees (and their dependents) that is “affordable” and provides “minimum value” to avoid applicable penalties. 
Notice 2018-94 does not extend the due date for filing the Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS, with the due date remaining February 28, 2019, if not filing electronically, or April 1, 2019, if filing electronically. Employers may still obtain an automatic 30-day extension to file the required forms by filing a Form 8809 with the IRS on or before the forms’ due date. An employer may also receive an additional 30-day extension under certain hardship conditions.
Employers who fail to comply with the extended due dates for furnishing Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals or for filing the Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C are subject to penalties. However, an employer that fails to meet the relevant due dates should still furnish and file the required forms as soon as possible. The IRS will take such furnishing and filing of the forms into determining whether to decrease penalties for reasonable cause.
Below is a chart of the applicable deadlines for 2018 Forms and the applicable reporting entities:
|Fully-Insured Plan||Self-Insured Plan||
Deadline for 2018 Forms
|No filing required.||No filing required.||Forms 1094-B and 1095-B||To individuals:
March 4, 2019
To the IRS:
February 28, 2019, if filing by paper; or
April 1, 2019, if filing electronically.
|Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (except Part III; leave blank).||Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (except Part III; leave blank).||Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for employees.
Either B- or C-Series forms for non-employees.
|No filing required.||Forms 1094-B and 1095-B.||Not applicable.|
Extension of Good Faith Relief
Similar to the good-faith relief provided in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the IRS will not impose penalties on employers that can show that they made good-faith efforts to comply with the requirements for calendar year 2018. This relief is available only for incorrect and incomplete information reported on the statements or returns, such as missing and inaccurate taxpayer identification numbers and dates of birth. In determining good faith, the IRS will consider whether an employer made reasonable efforts to comply with the requirements (e.g., gathering and transmitting the necessary data to an agent or testing its ability to transmit information).
Good faith relief is not available to employers who have failed to timely furnish or file a statement or comply with the regulations. However, if an employer is late filing a return, it may be possible to get a penalty abatement for failures that are due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. To establish reasonable cause, an employer must show that it acted in a responsible manner and that the failure was due to significant mitigating factors or events beyond its control.
Individual Mandate and Reporting In Future Years
Individuals do not need to wait to receive the Form 1095-C to file their 2018 tax returns, but should keep these forms for their records. They may rely on other information provided by their employers or other service providers to determine their eligibility for a premium tax subsidy and confirming whether they have had MEC to avoid an individual mandate penalty in 2018. Individuals do not need to send the information they relied upon to the IRS when they send their returns.
Notably, while the individual shared responsibility payment is reduced to zero beginning January 1, 2019, the IRS will continue to study whether and how the reporting requirements should change, if at all, for future years. In the meantime, employers and other service providers should continue to collect information in 2019 needed to comply with all ACA reporting requirements.
 The penalties for failure to comply with these ACA requirements could result in penalties under Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H(a) (“A Penalty”) and Section 4980H(b) (“B Penalty”). The “A Penalty” is $2,320 in 2018 ($2,500 in 2019) for each full-time employee (minus 30 employees) of the employer, including full-time employees who have MEC from another employer plan or another source. The “B Penalty” is $3,480 in 2018 ($3,750 in 2019) for each employee that obtains a premium tax credit.
Based on proposed regulations released by the U.S. Department of Treasury on November 14, 2018 (the “Proposed Regulations”), participants in 401(k) and 403(b) plans may find it easier to get hardship withdrawals as early as plan years beginning after December 31, 2018. Hardship withdrawals are permitted on account of financial hardships if the distribution is made in response to an “immediate and heavy financial need” and the distribution is necessary to satisfy that need. The Proposed Regulations incorporate various prior statutory changes, including changes imposed by the 2017 Tax Act, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and the Pension Protection Act of 2006. These changes are summarized below:
1. Safe Harbor Expenses. Under the current regulations, a withdrawal to cover an expense on the safe harbor list is deemed to be made on account of an immediate and heavy financial need. The Proposed Regulations expand the safe harbor list of expenses for which a participant may take a hardship withdrawal, which may be applied to withdrawals occurring on or after January 1, 2018. The primary changes to the safe harbor list made by the Proposed Regulations are:
- the expansion of the category of individuals for whom a participant may take a hardship distribution for qualifying medical, educational, and funeral expenses incurred by a participant to include a “primary beneficiary under the plan”, i.e., the individual who the participant has designated as the beneficiary to receive the participant’s plan account upon the death of the participant;
- the elimination of the requirement that expenses related to damage to a principal residence that would qualify for a casualty deduction under Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended be attributable to a federally declared disaster, which was imposed by the 2017 Tax Act; and
- the addition of a new item allowing for hardship distributions for expenses incurred as a result of certain disasters that occur in areas designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) as eligible for individual assistance.
2. Six-Month Deferral Suspension Requirement Eliminated. Under current regulations, a plan participant must be prohibited from making elective deferrals and employee contributions for six months and must take any available plan loans before the hardship withdrawal. Under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the six-month suspension requirement must be eliminated by January 1, 2020 and the Proposed Regulations allow the six-month suspension to be eliminated for plan years after December 31, 2018 if the plan sponsor so elects. The elimination of the six-month suspension reflects the concern of Congress that a suspension would impede the employee’s ability to replace distributed funds. Plans, however, may elect to continue to require a plan loan prior to a hardship withdrawal.
3. Participant Representation. To determine whether a distribution is necessary to satisfy an immediate and heavy financial need, the Proposed Regulations rely on the following general non-safe harbor standard:
- the withdrawal may not exceed the amount of the participant’s need; and
- the participant must have obtained other available distributions under the employer plans.
Under the current regulations, the plan must use a facts and circumstances test to establish the general non-safe harbor standard. Effective as of January 1, 2020, a participant seeking a hardship withdrawal must represent that he or she has insufficient cash or other liquid assets to satisfy the financial need. The plan administrator may rely on the representation unless the plan administrator has actual knowledge to the contrary.
4. Expanded Sources. The current regulations generally only permit hardship withdrawals from elective contributions. Under the Proposed Regulations, a plan may permit hardship withdrawals from elective contributions, qualified non-elective contributions (QNECs), and qualified matching contributions (QMACs), and also from earnings on these contributions, regardless of when contributed or earned. Since contributions to a 401(k) safe harbor plan are subject to the same limitations as QNECs and QMACs, the Proposed Regulations provide that safe harbor contributions may also be a source for hardship withdrawals.
5. 403(b) Plans. The Proposed Regulations will have some impact on 403(b) plans. While income attributable to elective deferrals will not be eligible for hardship withdrawals under the Proposed Regulations, QNECs and QMACs that are not in a custodial account may be withdrawn on account of hardship.
6. Relief for Hurricane Victims. Because the Treasury Department and IRS recognized that employees adversely impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael might need expedited access to their plan accounts, the Proposed Regulations extend to these employees the relief provided by Announcement 2017-15 to victims of Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires. The new automatic FEMA safe harbor standard described above will provide greater certainty and expedited access for plan sponsors and participants that may be affected in the future by such disasters.
Effective Dates and Plan Amendments
As noted above, the Proposed Regulations generally apply to hardship withdrawals made in plan years beginning after December 31, 2018, with a few exceptions described above.
Once the Proposed Regulations are finalized, the deadline for adopting plan amendments related to the final hardship withdrawal regulations will be the end of the second calendar year that begins after the issuance of the Required Amendments List that includes the changes. However, since many of the changes included in the Proposed Regulations reflect statutory changes, plan sponsors may wish to adopt some of the required amendments in 2019 so that their plan documents are consistent with plan administration.
Cannabis has been legalized in Canada as of October 17, 2018. What does this mean for employers with employees traveling to and from Canada? Can travelers from Canada to the United States with legally purchased cannabis simply drive to a state where recreational or medical use of cannabis is legal? The bottom line: Employers should remind employees that they cannot cross into the United States with Canadian cannabis under any circumstances.
The framework created in Canada did not change laws regarding borders. A traveler who purchases legal cannabis in Canada may not enter the United States with it, regardless of whether the person is traveling to a state that has legalized marijuana. Cannabis remains illegal under federal law and crossing any U.S. – Canada border will result in legal prosecution by the federal government. This applies to any amount and any form of cannabis, including medical marijuana.
The same is true if one were returning to Canada with legally purchased cannabis from Canada. This act is illegal. There is no situation where a receipt can be shown to “prove” the origin. The origin does not matter. The act of taking cannabis across the border is illegal.
Further, for the same reasons, cannabis cannot be brought on international flights even if the flight originated from Canada. It is expected that declaration forms on flights originating from Canada traveling to the U.S. may include questions on cannabis. Given how relatively new the legalization and regulation of cannabis is in Canada, travelers should expect to see and/or hear increased questions about cannabis possession and use, generally, at the borders.
Forget bringing cannabis purchased in Canada into the U.S. Even a single past use of cannabis may lead travelers to unforeseen legal troubles. The Canadian government warns that previous use of cannabis could result in the traveler being denied entry to the destination country, including the U.S. This could be a lifetime ban that may take years to sort for these noncitizens.
Certain other travelers may be inadmissible to the U.S. due to their ties to cannabis. Canadian citizens working in the marijuana industry, for example, may be denied entry to the U.S. if they are traveling to the U.S. for reasons related to that industry. In addition, while Canada intends to pardon citizens with simple marijuana possession convictions, the U.S. does not recognize foreign pardons, and so these individuals also could be deemed inadmissible to enter the U.S.