Articles Posted in Benefits

The Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor created a lot of uncertainty in the area of federal employment benefits. Because the federal government’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman was held to be unconstitutional, the decision left open the question of when same-sex couples were eligible for spousal benefits in a variety of contexts. In a move that is sure to simplify issues for multi-state employers, the Department of Labor is taking steps to clarify that issue under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


The FMLA is a federal law providing unpaid leave to employees who have worked for a company for at least twelve months, and who worked at least 1,250 hours in the calendar year preceding the request for leave. Leave may be taken for a variety of reasons, including to care for a spouse with a serious health condition. Thus, a key consideration in determining eligibility for FMLA leave is whether the person for whom you intend to care is a “spouse” under applicable law. The term “spouse” used to be defined by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, DOMA’s definition of marriage was declared to be unconstitutional under the Windsor decision.

Editor’s Note:  This post was written by Timothy J. Snyder, Esq.  Tim is the Chair of Young Conaway’s Tax, Trusts and Estates, and Employee Benefits Sections. 

Delaware’s Mini-COBRA law, enacted in May 2012, allows qualified individuals who work for employers with fewer than 20 employees to continue their coverage at their own cost, for up to 9 months after termination of coverage.  When it was passed, the legislature provided that the provisions of the Mini-COBRA statute:

shall have no force or effect if the Health Care bill passed by Congress and signed by the President of the United States of America in 2010 is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States of America or the provisions addressed by this Act are preempted by federal law on January 1, 2014, whichever first careContinue reading

Delaware began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on July 1, 2013, less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Delaware will no longer perform civil unions pursuant to the Civil Union Equality Act, which was passed into law in 2010. Couples who entered into a civil union prior to July 1 may convert their civil union into a legally recognized marriage or wait until July 1, 2014, when all remaining civil unions will be automatically converted.

The Court’s DOMA ruling is expected to affect an estimated 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and privileges. For Delaware employers, the impact is potentially significant. Delaware employers must now extend all federal benefits to gay married couples that were previously made available to straight married couples. The impact also is immediate. Unlike with new legislation, there will be no delay between the Court’s ruling and an employer’s obligation to extend benefits.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision will impact who is eligible for benefits, the procedures remain unchanged. For example, the process for requesting and reviewing FMLA leave, COBRA coverage, and other federally mandated benefits of employment will not change.

Is an employee who is in the country illegally a covered “employee” under the Workers’ Compensation laws? That was the question of first impression presented to the Delaware Superior Court in Del. Valley Field Servs. v. Ramirez, (PDF) No. 12A-01-007-JOH (Sep. 13, 2012). The court concluded that the answer is “yes,” and ordered that the former employee, who has since been deported to Honduras, is eligible to receive benefits under Delaware’s workers-compensation statute.


The employee, Saul Melgar Ramirez, was hired in April 2010 as an “independent contractor'”–which the term the court uses to say that Ramirez was paid in cash. In January 2011, he was converted to a regular employee and added to the payroll. When told by his boss that he would need a Social Security number for his I-9 documentation, Ramirez bought a fake SSN card for $180. In February, the payroll service informed the employer that the number was false. Ramirez was deported in March.

EEOC was awarded summary judgment by a federal court in Maryland last week. The court found that Baltimore County’s pension plan violates the ADEA in EEOC v. Baltimore County, Civil No. L-07-2500-BEL (D. Md. Oct. 17, 2012).

The Plan

All full-time employees under age 59 were required to participate in the Plan. Employees were required to contribute to the Plan at different rates based on the age at which they joined, so that the contribution would be sufficient to fund approximately one-half of his or her final retirement benefit, with the other half to be funded by the County. Older workers were required to contribute a higher percentage of their salary than younger workers because their contributions would have less time before retirement to accrue earnings. For example, a laborer who became a member of the Plan at age 25 was required to contribute 2.75%, whereas a laborer who joined at age 45 was required to contribute 4%. The Plan was changed in 2007 so that new employees were required to contribute at a flat rate, regardless of their age at the time they were hired.

The Delaware House of Representatives voted yesterday in favor of Senate Bill 30, a bill that would create same-sex civil unions in Delaware, and recognize civil unions performed in other states. The bill also changes all sections of the Delaware Code where marriage is mentioned, by requiring that the word “marriage” be read to mean “marriage or civil union.”  Delaware Capitol Hill color

Senate Bill 30 was approved by the Delaware Senate on April 7, and Governor Markell has already declared that he will sign the bill into law “as soon as a suitable time and place are arranged.” The law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

The new law raises several questions for employers.  For example, the law cannot, and does not, alter federal non-recognition of civil unions. So how will the new law impact employers?


If you were hoping to be able to sock away more money into your 401(K) Plan in 2011 than you did in 2011, fuggedaboutit! The maximum elective deferrals for 2011 remains the same as it was for 2009 and 2010 — $16,500. The catch-up contribution limitation for those who are at least age 50 during 2011 is also unchanged at $5,500. The annual limit on compensation remains at $245,000, the defined contribution limit on contributions remains at $49,000 and the maximum benefit payable from a defined benefit remains at the lesser of 100% of compensation or $195,000.

Congress established the method by which the IRS determines the inflation adjusted annual benefit plan limitations. However, it seems like bad public policy to limit amounts that will be payable to employees upon retirement by the current cost of living increases, especially when the stock market is performing sluggishly.

Look for the complete listing of the adjustments to the benefit limitations when we publish our 2011 Benefits Update Card, a link to which will be posted on this blog.

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The provisions of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (the “ACA”) that require employers to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health-care coverage on 2011 Forms W-2 will be optional and not mandatory. According to the IRS, this interim relief is being provided to allow employers to make necessary changes to their payroll systems. The IRS has also announced that it anticipates issuing guidance on this reporting requirement prior to the end of 2010. The ACA requires the “aggregate cost” is to be determined under rules similar to the rules for determining the “applicable premium” under COBRA. The aggregate cost will include the portions of the cost paid by both the employer and the employee.

Notice 2010-69

*This post was written by Timothy J. Snyder, Esq.  Tim is the Chair of Young Conaway’s Tax, Trusts and Estates, and Employee Benefits Sections.  His primary area of practice is employee benefits, which involves both the benefit provisions of provisions of the Internal Revenue Service and ERISA.  He represents businesses and professionals in establishing, monitoring, and administering employee-benefit plans, new comparability retirement plans, non-qualified deferred-compensation plans, health, disability and life benefits, COBRA, HIPAA, ADA and ADEA.

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Health care reform is now law and many of the so called “insurance market reforms” go into effect for most employers on January 1, 2011. However, the portion of the law that will require certain large employers to offer and contribute to employees’ health insurance or pay a penalty are deferred until 2014.Health care symbol

Under the law, effective January 1, 2014, each Applicable Large Employer must offer minimum essential coverage to its full-time employees (and their dependents) or it will be required to pay a penalty for each month that any of its full-time employees purchases health insurance through a state health insurance exchange (“Exchange”) and receives a tax credit or cost-sharing reduction (generally granted to individuals based on income levels).

An Applicable Large Employer is one that employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees during the preceding calendar year. A full-time employee is one who for any month works an average of at least 30 hours or more each week is counted as one employee and those employees who work less than 30 hours per week are counted as proportionate employees based on 30 hours per week. An Applicable Large Employer will be subject to the penalty only if the employer has any full-time employees who are certified as having purchased health insurance through an Exchange and received a tax credit or cost-sharing reduction.

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In 1989, when the Internal Revenue Service wrote the first proposed regulations for health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), it came up with the requirement that health FSAs must exhibit the “risk-shifting and risk-distribution characteristics of insurance”. This concept has been translated into of the “uniform coverage” rule.

The uniform-coverage rule requires that the maximum amount of an employee’s elective contributions to a health FSA must be available from the first day of the plan year to reimburse the employee’s qualified medical expenses. This means that if an employee elects to contribute to the health FSA $100 per month for the year, the employee must be reimbursed for qualified medical expenses up to the full $1,200 from the first day of the year, regardless of the amount actually contributed to the plan at the time that reimbursement is sought.

Under the uniform-coverage rule, an employee can potentially terminate employment having been reimbursed under the health FSA for more than she contributed up to the time of her termination. This rule has caused most employers to limit the amounts that employees can contribute to a health FSA, even though, prior to the effective date of provisions in the recent healthcare reform legislation ($2,500 annual cap after 2012), there is no statutory limit on contributions to health FSAs.

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