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It’s (Not) Academic: Cybersecurity Is a Must for Universities and Academic Medical Centers

Cutting-edge research institutions need cutting-edge cybersecurity to protect their IP and critical personal and financial data.  Universities hold vast repositories of valuable information, including student healthcare information, patient information from academic medical centers, and financial and personal data from applicants, donors, students, faculty, and staff.  So it’s no surprise hackers have been targeting universities lately—in fact, at least eight American universities (including Harvard, UC Berkeley, University of Maryland, and Indiana University) have announced cyber intrusions over the past two years.

With the cost of a data breach averaging $3.8 million,[1] universities cannot afford to pretend cybercrime won’t happen to them.  For institutions with health records, the financial costs can be even greater (as high as $360 per record!), due to the high value of health records on the internet’s black market, the “Dark Web.”

But, the dollars may not mean as much as the bad PR—having your institution’s name in national headlines, risking research funding from governments or corporate partners, losing protected and sensitive IP, fielding calls from angry donors, students, and parents whose personal information has been compromised, and defending multiple civil suits—all because the institution failed to assess its cyber liability.  (See additional information on assessing cyber liability).

For major research institutions holding valuable IP, health records, and grants for sensitive research, having a cybersecurity prevention and remediation plan is more than just a good idea, it’s an absolute must.  And these cybersecurity measures must extend beyond mere “compliance.”  The Federal Government will continue to create cybersecurity regulations, but their regulations never will keep up with the risks.  A university’s administration answers to the Federal Government, to its Board, to its donors, to the media, to its students and faculty, and to the general public. None of these constituencies will be calmed by minimal compliance with outdated regulations.

Instead, universities can address their cybersecurity risks with some initial measures to prevent intrusions and to minimize the damage if a hacker does get through:

  • Protections against Insider Threats: Attacks by insiders accounted for more than 50% of the cyberattacks in 2014. To help mitigate these threats, create an insider threat team and build a holistic approach to security—include staff from IT and technology, legal, physical security, and human resources. Emphasize training of employees, faculty, and administrators in basic cybersecurity awareness to instill habits that will better protect the institution.

  • Enhance Network Security Policies and Procedures: Implement security precautions to make a hack more difficult. For example: create enhanced protocols to prevent unauthorized access to devices and systems, including multi-factor authentication; provide broad and frequent updates to computers on-campus and for computers that regularly access campus networks; and prevent access to compromised sites by incorporating controls into your network.

  • Cyber Intrusion TestingWork with a vendor to test the institution’s current cybersecurity vulnerabilities and get advice on how to reduce those vulnerabilities.

  • Corrective Action Plan: —one that includes disclosure and mitigation efforts. Importantly, if an institution holds government contracts or grants, follow the required disclosure protocols for cyber intrusion (note that agencies may differ in their disclosure and mitigation requirements).

  • Cyber Insurance: —particularly those with academic medical centers and/or sensitive research programs—should ensure their policies are large enough to cover a worst-case scenario.While a comprehensive cybersecurity plan will require additional systematic and long-term efforts, taking these steps will at least keep an institution off of a hacker’s list of “low-hanging fruit.”

Copyright © 2015, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

[1] Ponemon Institute, Cost of Data Breach Study (2015).  Note this average does not include mega-breaches like those experienced by Home Depot, Target, or Sony Pictures.


Let’s Talk Turkey: Wage/Hour and Other Laws to Feast on Over Thanksgiving

We all know that employers do not receive “time off” from applicable employment laws during the holidays. To avoid unnecessary holiday headaches, be mindful of the following issues as you conduct your workplace holiday staffing and planning.

Comply with your Policies and Collective Bargaining Agreements

Remember to abide by the applicable holiday provisions of your policies, agreements, or collective bargaining agreements. Pay for unworked time on recognized holidays; how time worked on holidays is computed or paid; and eligibility requirements for receipt of holiday pay are often a matter of policy or contract. Breaching such provisions—or disparately enforcing them—can give rise to a claim, charge, or grievance.

Think Beyond your Holiday Policy—Comply with Wage Laws

Be mindful of wage payment laws when you are planning office closures to ensure that you do not run afoul of state requirements governing the time, frequency, and method of paying earned wages. Also, remember that time worked on a holiday should be counted as “hours worked” for purposes of overtime laws, regardless of whether you provide a holiday premium or other benefit.  Further, be careful about making deductions from exempt employees’ salaries for time off around the holidays so as not to jeopardize the exempt status—a company closure for the holidays is not listed among the Department of Labor’s enumerated instances of proper reasons to make deductions under the salary basis rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

No Break from Meal and Rest Period Laws

Even if your employees are frantically setting up holiday displays or assisting eager consumers on Black Friday, provide meal and rest periods in accordance with state law. Many states require that employers provide meal and break periods, and the frequency and timing of such periods are often dependent upon the total number of hours worked in a day. For instance, Illinois employers must allow a meal break for employees working 7.5 continuous hours or longer within 5 hours of starting work; New York’s Department of Labor guidelines specify requirements for a “noonday” meal period between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., with additional meal periods for shifts extending into specified evening hours.

Also, while bona fide meal breaks of a sufficient duration can generally be unpaid, beware that restrictions, duties, or parameters on such breaks might run afoul of your state’s law and can make a meal period compensable.

A “Blue” Christmas

If your business has operations in one of the few states that impose “Blue Law” requirements for business operations on holidays, then be aware of obligations or restrictions that might apply. For instance, if you operate in Massachusetts, then you might be required to obtain a local permit and/or be subject to extra pay or other standards for employees working on a holiday. In Rhode Island, you might be subject to an overtime pay rate on holidays or other requirements.

Be sure to check your state and local laws to confirm applicable standards.

Accommodate Observation of Holidays Due to Religious Beliefs

Finally, remember that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many state or local laws require employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. “Religion” can include not only traditional, organized religions such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also sincerely held religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or only held by a small number of people.

Thus, while your company may be closed on Christmas Day, you may need to allow an employee time off to celebrate a religious holiday that your company does not recognize. Businesses can accommodate in the form of time off, modifications to schedules, shift substitutions, job reassignments, or other modifications to workplace policies or practices.

Close of football on yard line stripe. American Football

Illinois: Transgender Locker Room Policy Eludes School District Facing Government Sanctions Under Title IX

An Illinois school district has violated anti-discrimination laws by not allowing a transgender student who identifies as female and is on her high school’s girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room, the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) has held.

The OCR released its findings on November 2, 2015, after completing an extensive investigation of a complaint for unlawful discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 filed by a transgender female high school student against the Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. An entity in violation of Title IX may lose some or all of its Title IX funding.

Schools districts, colleges, and private employers are increasingly at risk of transgender discrimination charges or complaints under laws enforced by the OCR, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as these agencies develop their policies on transgender issues.

The EEOC, the DOL, and the DOJ have interpreted Title VII of the Civil Right Act’s prohibitions on sex discrimination to bar employment discrimination based on gender identity.

On the employment front, in the seven months between October 2014 and April 2015, EEOC received 505 charges based on sexual orientation discrimination and 112 charges based on gender identity. Moreover, the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2012-2016 includes the investigation and enforcement of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sex stereotyping claims .

Further, effective April 2015, the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requires federal contractors subject to Executive Law 11246 to allow transgender employees to use the restroom and other facilities consistent with their gender identity (See article DOL Releases Regulations Extending Protections to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees, Applicants).

Finally, the OSHA guidelines require all employers under its jurisdiction to provide a “safe and healthy working environment for all employees” and transgender employees “should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.”

OSHA recommends that companies should implement written policies to ensure that all employees have “prompt access to appropriate sanitary facilities.” The agency’s best practices guide also recommends providing options from which a transgender employee may choose. These can include single-occupancy gender-neutral facilities and the use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls (See article Restroom Access Should Be Consistent with Employee’s Gender Identity, OSHA Says).


The Township High School District 211 denied a transgender female student access to three separate girls’ locker rooms (“LR”) (including the Physical Education (“PE”) LR, the PE Swim LR, and the Athletics LR). The Student alleged the District discriminated against her based on sex by denying her access to the girls’ locker rooms because of her gender identity and gender non-conformity.

OCR Decision

The OCR found the District violated Title IX for excluding the Student from participation in and denying her the benefits of its education program, providing services to her in a different manner, subjecting her to different rules of behavior, and subjecting her to different treatment on the basis of sex.

“The evidence shows that as a result of the District’s denial of access to the girls LRs, Student A has not only received an unequal opportunity to benefit from the District’s educational program, but also has experienced an ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism throughout her high school enrollment.”

Other than access to the female locker rooms, the OCR found the District treated the Student consistently with her gender identity, including identifying her by her female name and with female pronouns, providing her with full access to girls’ restrooms and allowing her to participate in girls’ sports.

Alternatives Not Acceptable

The District argued it offered the Student alternative changing options, such as permitting her to change with several female friends in an alternative restroom closer to the PE gym and offering her another restroom near the Swim LR.

The OCR found that the alternatives “continued or would continue to exclude [the Student] from the girls’ locker rooms and set her apart from her female classmates and teammates,” particularly as some of the proposed alternative facilities were not comparable to those provided for other girls.

For example, unlike the other female students who used the PE class swim unit, the Student had access only to a rinse shower and was not able to dry her hair because there was no electrical outlet. Furthermore, by not having access to the PE locker room, she was subjected to stigma and different treatment, OCR said, because she occasionally had been late to class or missed class announcements that were made in the girls’ locker room.

Finally, as a result of being denied access to the girls Athletics LR, the Student felt excluded from the team because she missed the informal huddle in the LR before matches, locker room “girl talk,” and the female bonding in the LR. According, the OCR concluded the District denied the Student’s Title IX rights.

Privacy Concerns Unavailing

While acknowledging that it denied the Student access to the female locker rooms, the District argued that it had to balance the Student’s rights and interests with two distinct privacy concerns of other female students:

  • the need to protect female students from “being observed in a state of undress by a biologically male individual,” and

  • the “inappropriateness of allowing young female students to view a biologically naked male in the locker room in a state of undress.”

The OCR found both of these arguments unpersuasive as the District had installed five showers with privacy curtains and five restroom stalls in the girls PE LR, but had not provided private changing areas in the other two LRs.

“The District’s installation and maintenance of privacy curtains in one locker room go a long distance toward achieving such a nondiscriminatory alternative because providing sufficient privacy curtain access to accommodate any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing would allow for protection of all students’ rights in this context. Those female students wishing to protect their own private bodies from exposure to being observed in a state of undress by other girls in the locker rooms, including transgender girls, could change behind a privacy curtain.”

Given the Student’s willingness to change privately, the OCR said, the District could have provided equal access to all three LRs if it installed additional privacy curtains for any student that wanted privacy.


Federal government agencies are increasingly examining the purported protections afforded to transgender students and employees, in both the public and private sectors. How to handle transgender issues is still a work-in-progress for the agencies and the entities they regulate. In this case, despite the District’s accommodations and options to provide equal treatment to the Student in all respects other than access to the Locker Room, the OCR nevertheless held its efforts were insufficient. Moreover, states also have laws protecting LGBT individuals (See article Utah Governor Signs Landmark LGBT and Religious Expression Anti-Discrimination Bill).

The following steps can help lower the risk of being under government scrutiny:

  1. closely review and revise EEO (equal employment opportunity), harassment, and transgender policies;

  2. ensure proper sensitivity training of administrators, faculty, and students to foster diverse and inclusive primary, secondary school, and campus environments to avoid stigmatizing transgender students; and

  3. ensure that accommodations for transgender students and employees provide equal access in all respects, as well as balance privacy concerns.

Because of the complexities involved in this area, school districts, colleges, and private sector employers would be well-served to regularly review their policies and practices with counsel to ensure they address specific organizational needs effectively and comply with applicable law.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

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Breaking News: Refusing to Allow an Employee to Rescind His Or Her Voluntary Resignation Can Get You Sued

Here is the scenario. Your employee decides to voluntarily resign. She gives plenty of notice. Before her scheduled end date, the employee provides information relevant to a sexual harassment investigation involving her supervisor. Before the scheduled end date, the employee tries to rescind her employment. The supervisor refuses. Here’s the question: Is the refusal to allow the employee the opportunity to rescind her resignation an “adverse employment action” for purposes of a retaliation claim?

It could be, at least according to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A similar scenario played out in Porter v. Houma Terreboone Housing Authority. According to the court:

“Just as an at-will employer does not have to hire a given employee, an employer does not have to accept a given employee’s rescission. Failing to do so in either case because the employee has engaged in a protected activity is nonetheless an adverse employment action.”

This is something employers need to be aware of. Remember: thoroughly investigate all work place harassment claims. Also, separate the subject of the investigation from any decisional process regarding the employee’s employment. In a perfect world, the decision-maker would not have any knowledge regarding the employee’s “protected activity.”


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Health Officials’ Latest Tool in Tool Box – Whole Genome Sequencing

In late October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with state and local officials investigated an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to food served at a major fast-casual restaurant chain. Much of the underlying information documenting the outbreak has been derived from an advanced laboratory technique called “whole genome sequencing” (WGS). This is a fairly new instrument in the CDC toolbox. WGS reveals the complete DNA make-up of an organism, thereby enabling health officials to better understand variations both within and between potentially pathogenic species. Such information can then be compared with clinical isolates from sick patients, and, if they match, there may be a reliable link established between the illness and the pathogen. This new technique has the potential to define the scope of a foodborne illness outbreak more quickly and ideally will help to prevent additional cases. Traditionally, this analysis has been done via a process known as pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). But PFGE has a shortcoming in that it is unable to differentiate between related species of organisms, which can be critical when health officials are trying to delineate the specific source of the outbreak, and want to know whether to recall a product or not.

The FDA cites numerous examples of how it has used WGS: 1

  • To differentiate sources of contamination, even within the same outbreak;

  • To determine which ingredient in a multi-ingredient food harbored the pathogen associated with an illness outbreak;

  • To narrow the search for the source of a contaminated ingredient;

  • As a clue to the possible source of illnesses; and

  • To determine unexpected vectors for food contamination.

The use of techniques such as WGS reflects FDA’s shift toward a broader preventative-centric approach to food safety. This approach can be associated the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law on January 4, 2011, which requires comprehensive, science-based preventive controls across the food supply.2 FSMA provides the FDA with new enforcement authorities designed to achieve higher rates of compliance with prevention-based and risk-based food safety standards, and to better respond to and contain problems when they do occur. Lastly, the law also gives the FDA important new tools to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods and directs FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities.

WGS also has been employed in the context of recent illness outbreaks associated with products regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees the safety of meat and poultry. In some circumstances involving FSIS, the regulated industry has found itself on the receiving end of confusing scientific input, as regulatory recommendations based upon PFGE analysis were subsequently negated by WGS data.

A shift to WGS may allow health officials to more quickly and more precisely connect the dots during an outbreak, and use of this tool may also benefit the regulated community. The enhanced precision of WGS may provide the regulated community with a new ability to prevent being falsely labeled as the source of the outbreak. Under the prior testing regime, PFGE tests were often unable to differentiate between related species of organisms, and as a result, regulators were at times forced to cast an overly wide net to capture the source of an outbreak. The new WGS technique provides authorities with a more precise and accurate tool. But, as circumstances with FSIS suggest, companies may also encounter confusion over growing pains associated with the movement from one generation of technology to another. We will continue to monitor the development and use of new tools and techniques the FDA, FSIS, and other federal agencies are using to prevent and respond to food safety issues.

1 Food and Drug Administration, Examples of How FDA Has Used Whole Genome Sequencing of Foodborne Pathogens For Regulatory Purposes, (last visited Nov. 9, 2015).
2 FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, Pub. L. No. 111-353, 124 Stat. 3885 (2001). 

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Employers: Twitter is Going Crazy Over #InternationalMensDay Hashtag

This will be a short post. Earlier this week we posted an article that discussed the need for employers to stay on top of what is trending on the Internet. Why? Because trending topics can sometimes lead to controversial discussions that might not be consistent with an employer’s EEO Policy. As a result, we explained that it would be prudent to understand what may be the current topic being discussed around the watercooler. Here is a follow up to that article:  The #InternationalMensDay hashtag is currently trending on Twitter (right now at 114K tweets). What is the relevance of this topic to employers? A quick search shows that a lot of the content posted can be construed as inappropriate and/or discriminatory (although presumably meant to be humorous).  It’s the middle of the work day where we are – so we can only presume a lot of this content is being posted by employees in the workplace.

Remember: Title VII and many state laws prohibit discrimination based on gender. The more questionable content generated in the workplace, the better chance an employee can argue there is evidence of a  convincing mosaic of discrimination tolerated by the employer. Be sure to remind employees of your company’s EEO policy if you come across any inappropriate content and/or discussions. And, as always, be sure to stay on top of trends that may have an impact in the workplace.

ARTICLE BY  Peter T. Tschanz of Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Best Practices for Creating Landing Pages That Convert

Landing pages — dedicated web pages that a visitor to your website, blog, social media post or e-newsletter is guided to after clicking on a link — are critical when it comes to converting those visitors into qualified leads.

landing pages internetIf you have been directing traffic to the home page of your website, you are missing a big opportunity to capture more leads. Landing pages have been proven to more than double conversion rates when compared with website home pages. This is because they are created specifically for converting leads, featuring specialized content and offers that appeal to a targeted audience.

To make your landing pages pay, you need to know the basics about how to create a highly effective landing page.  Here are 10 steps you need to take in developing landing pages for your law firm:

  1. Have a singular goal.  You want your landing page to do just one job for you — get the visitor to download that free report, sign up for a seminar, subscribe to your newsletter, etc.  Don’t clutter them up with multiple offers.  One page.  One job.

  2. Use a single, relevant visual.  Choose an illustration or photo that is relevant to your offer.

  3. No false endorsements.  Don’t create false endorsements for your offer.  Avoid cheesy endorsement copy that turns visitors off.

  4. Use simple design.  Keep your design simple with minimal, impactful copy that consists of a headline, subhead and bullet points that make the content easy to scan.

  5. Quick load.  Be sure your landing page loads quickly; you only have a few seconds for it to pop up or your visitor will lose interest and click off.

  6. Compelling copy.  The worse thing you can do is bore your visitor.  Your copy needs to be readable, believable and lead the visitor quickly to your ultimate goal.

  7. Eyes on the prize.  Write and design your land page with your singular goal in mind.  Do not clutter the content with irrelevant prose.

  8. Inform and educate.  Don’t waste the visitor’s time by not delivering anything of benefit.  And don’t ask for too much information — a name and an email address should be sufficient.

  9. Be truthful.  If you have actual testimonials that would be appropriate, use them but be sure you are not making any false promises or guarantees.

  10. Provide value.  Make it clear what the value and benefits of redeeming your offer will provide to your visitor.  If they are entrusting you with their information, you need to let them know it is a fair exchange for what you are providing with the offer.

© The Rainmaker Institute, All Rights Reserved

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P3 Legislation in Florida – Public Private Partnerships

On September 24-25, Miami-Dade County held a P3 Institute entitled “The P3 Pipeline: A Forum for the Private Sector.” Among the topics discussed at the Institute was a measure currently before the Florida Legislature that, if enacted, will make the P3 procurement process easier for all parties involved.

Two bills, House Bill 97 and House Bill 95, have advanced to House committees and are moving through the legislative process. HB 97, known as “Public Records and Public Meetings,” is currently in the State Affairs Committee. HB 95, a companion bill known simply as “Public-Private Partnerships,” is in the Appropriations Committee. Approval by all required legislative committees is a necessary step before these bills can be introduced in the 2016 legislative session.

If it passes, HB 97 would exempt unsolicited P3 proposals by responsible public entities from public records and public meeting requirements for a specified time period. HB 95, a corollary bill, revises provisions regarding responsible public entities and unsolicited proposals for qualified projects. In doing so, HB 95 expands the list of entities authorized to conduct P3s to include state universities, special districts, school districts (rather than school boards), and institutions included in the state college system.

On a related note, the bills’ sponsor, Representative Greg Staube (R-Sarasota), has stated that several state legislators (without naming the legislators specifically) are discussing the possibility of a centralized state office that could offer Public Private Partnership procurement expertise to Florida counties. The office could be housed in an existing state agency, like the Department of Management Services or Enterprise Florida, to save money.

Article By Albert E. Dotson, Jr. & Leah Aaronson of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP

© 2015 Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP
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Supreme Court to Decide Whether Government can Freeze a Defendant’s Lawful Assets Pre-Conviction

Whether the government can freeze all of a defendant’s assets before trial, even where those assets are not tainted by any connection to alleged federal offenses, thereby preventing a defendant from paying for his own defense, will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Luis v. United States, No. 14-419.

The federal Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (“MVRA”) requires that defendants convicted of crimes committed by “fraud or deceit” compensate victims for the full amount of the victims’ losses. Often, however, by the time there is a conviction, criminal defendants do not have any assets to satisfy those judgments. Seeking to address this problem, the United States has invoked the Fraud Injunction Act to freeze legitimate assets pre-conviction to pay a later judgment.

The Fraud Injunction Act statute authorizes a “restraining order” against assets when a person is “alienating or disposing of property, or intends to alienate or dispose of property” that is “obtained from” or “traceable to” certain federal offenses. In such cases, the statute permits a court to prohibit the use of tainted property “or property of equivalent value” before trial to ensure that sufficient assets are available to satisfy any judgment.

In 2012, the federal government charged Sila Luis with conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud – a scheme allegedly amounting to over $45 million, stemming from claims for home health services that were neither medically necessary nor actually performed. Using the Fraud Injunction Act, the federal government asked the district court to freeze all of Luis’s assets, including those that were not even allegedly obtained through fraud, totaling approximately $15 million. The district court agreed to impose the freeze. .

Luis then requested that the district court release her untainted assets so she may retain her lawyer. The district court denied the request, explaining that, because the government could locate “only a fraction of the assets” Medicare had paid Luis’s companies, her “untainted” assets also could be frozen. The district court likened Luis’s situation to that of a bank robber indicted for stealing $100,000; That is, if the robber has already spent the allegedly stolen money which he could not use to hire his preferred lawyer in any case, he also should not be able to spend a different $100,000 he “just happens” to have to hire the lawyer he wants.

Luis appealed the district court’s decision, arguing she was being deprived of her Fifth Amendment right to due process of law and her Sixth Amendment right to counsel of her choosing. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, upheld the district court’s denial of her request to release her legitimate assets, stating that Luis’s arguments were foreclosed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kaley v. United States (2014) and other decisions.

In Kaley, the Supreme Court held that when the government, following a grand jury indictment, restrains tainted assets needed to retain a lawyer, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments do not require a pretrial hearing at which the defendant can challenge a grand jury’s finding of probable cause.

Luis asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The Court agreed to do so and recently heard argument. A decision is expected by next June.

Article By Ramsay C. McCullough of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

Substantial OSHA Penalty Increases Are Coming

Line GraphOSHA penalties are going up.  EPA’s penalties are going up, too.  However, while EPA penalties have been going up modestly every four years to take inflation into account, OSHA penalties have not increased in 25 years.  Maximum OSHA penalties may jump as much as about 78 percent next year.  For a provision quietly tucked away in budget legislation, this packs quite a punch.

The Legislative Change

On November 2, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.[1]  Section 701 of that legislation is the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (the 2015 Adjustment Act).  The 2015 Adjustment Act amends the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990[2] to remove the OSHA exemption to the requirement that civil monetary penalties be periodically increased to account for inflation.  The amendment also changed the frequency of the inflation increases from “once every 4 years”[3] to “every year.”

In addition, the new law entitles OSHA to a single “catch up” penalty increase to account for the lack of periodic penalty increases, which “shall take effect no later than August 1, 2016.”  OSHA is authorized to calculate this initial increase based on the percentage difference between the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in October 2015 and the CPI in October of the calendar year that the civil penalty was last adjusted under any different law.[4]  In this instance, because OSHA penalties have not been adjusted since 1990, the catch-up penalty increase will be based on the October 1990 CPI as compared to the October 2015 CPI.

Based on the October 2015 CPI, the percentage difference is expected to be about 78 percent.[5]  In the catch-up adjustment, $7,000 OSHA penalties could increase to as much as approximately $12,471, and $70,000 OSHA penalties could increase to as much as approximately $124,710.  If OSHA rounds those numbers, the likely maximums would be $120,000 and $12,000.

Past Efforts to Raise Maximum OSHA Penalties

Under section 17 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), OSHA penalties for “willful” or “repeat” violations have a maximum civil penalty of $70,000 but not less than $5,000 for each willful violation.[6]  Penalties for “serious” violations have a maximum of $7,000 per violation.  Those figures have remained static since 1990 despite repeated efforts to increase them.

For example, in 2009, a Senate bill and a House bill,[7] both entitled the Protecting America’s Workers Act, would have amended section 17 of the OSH Act with one-time maximum civil penalty increases.  The $70,000 “willful” violation maximum would have been increased to $120,000 but not less than $8,000 (up from $5,000).  The penalties for “serious” violations would have increased from a maximum of $7,000 to a maximum of $12,000, and penalties for “serious” violations that result in employee fatalities would have been increased to a maximum of $50,000 but not less than $20,000 for employers with more than 25 employees.  The proposed legislation did not pass either House of Congress.[8]  This year, updated versions of the Protecting America’s Workers Act were introduced which would make the same adjustments in penalties.[9]

After more than 25 years and extensive legislative effort, OSHA penalties are poised for a significant initial increase, due to a provision added to an appropriations bill without hearings or debate.

Implications for State OSHAs

About half the states have their own enforcement programs under OSHA-approved state plans, even though they generally enforce OSHA’s standards.  Thus, the statutory increase in federal OSHA’s maximum penalties will not directly impact state OSHA programs, whose maximum penalties are set by state law.  However, this federal increase is expected to lead to state increases as well.  Under section 18 of the OSH Act, state plans must be “at least as effective” as those of federal OSHA.[10]  Lower state maximum penalties are not likely to be seen as being “as effective” as federal maximums.

EPA Penalties Are Going Up Too

Under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, EPA penalties have increased every four years.  Between 1996 and 2013, four adjustments of EPA’s statutory civil payment amounts were implemented.[11]  Annual inflation adjustments will now be required.  In recent years inflation has been low, so the next increase will likely be relatively modest.

[1] Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, Pub. L. 114-74.

[2] Id at § 701.  Prior to the amendment, Section 4(1) read: “by regulation adjust each civil monetary penalty provided by law within the jurisdiction of the Federal agency, except for any penalty (including any addition to tax and additional amount) under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, the Tariff Act of 1930, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, or the Social Security Act, by the inflation adjustment described under section 5 of this Act[.]”  H.R. 3019, 104th Cong. (1996).

[3] H.R. 3019, 104th Cong. (1996) (“The head of each agency shall, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 [Apr. 26, 1996], and at least once every 4 years thereafter[.]”) (emphasis added).

[4] This initial catch-up adjustment may not exceed 150 percent of the amount of the civil monetary penalties as of the date that the 2015 Adjustment Act was enacted.

[5] The October 1990 CPI is 133.5 and the October 2015 CPI is 237.838.  For more information on CPI figures and calculations, click here.

[6] 29 U.S.C. § 666.

[7] S. 1580, 111th Cong. (2009); H.R. 2067, 111th Cong. (2009).

[8] In addition, civil penalties for OSHA were subsequently included in proposed mine safety legislation, which was similarly unsuccessful. See H.R. 5663; Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., OSHA Legislation Gets Boost from Mine Safety Bill (Aug. 17, 2010). 

[9] S. 1112, 114th Cong. (2014); H.R. 2090, 114th Cong. (2014).

[10]  29 U.S.C. § 666.

[11] As described in the most recent (2013) EPA notice raising maximum penalties,  “EPA’s initial adjustment to each statutory civil penalty amount was published in the Federal Register on December 31, 1996 (61 FR 69360), and became effective on January 30, 1997 (‘the 1996 Rule’). EPA’s second adjustment to civil penalty amounts was published in the Federal Register on February 13, 2004 (69 FR 7121), and became effective on March 15, 2004 (‘the 2004 Rule’). EPA’s third adjustment to civil penalty amounts was published in the Federal Register on December 11, 2008 (73 FR 75340), as corrected in the Federal Register on January 7, 2009 (74 FR 626), and became effective on January 12, 2009 (‘the 2008 Rule’)”; and the fourth adjustment was published in the Federal Register on November 6, 2013.  78 Fed. Reg. 66643 (Nov. 6, 2013)

Trending Now: How Latest News Going Viral Can Lead to Employment Litigation

A downed Russian airliner, the tragic Paris attacks, the European refugee crisis, states closing their borders to Syrian nationals, Charlie  Sheen’s HIV diagnosis. What do these all have in common? They are hot topics for discussion around the watercooler.  And they also will bring out a multitude of opinions.  What’s the problem?  Opinions can be controversial and, to some, down right offensive.  Healthy debate about how the United States should handle the war on terror could be construed as evidence of religious discrimination (in some cases).  Discussion regarding Charlie Sheen’s HIV diagnosis can also quickly spiral out of control and later be construed as evidence of disability discrimination.  It’s a problem and employers need to be aware of it.

So how can you protect yourself?  Well, you certainly cannot stifle discussion about what is happening outside of the workplace.  Nevertheless, employers are encouraged to step up, stay on top of what’s trending and put a stop to any discussion that could reasonably be construed as inconsistent with the Company’s EEO policies.  You won’t be popular.  But let’s face it:  running a business is not about winning a popularity contest.

Want to stay on top of what’s trending?  Create a Twitter account and keep apprised of the most popular hashtags.  The amount of work is minimal and you’ll be tuned in to what topics are floating around the workplace.


Wyoming Senator Barrasso Introduces Carcieri Compromise Bill

More than six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has introduced the “Interior Improvement Act” to fix the loophole created by the decision that denied some tribes rights under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA). The bill is not, however, the “clean” Carcieri fix that Indian Country had been seeking.

In 2009, the Carcieri court ruled that the IRA, which delegated authority to the Secretary of the Interior to place land in trust status for Indian tribes, applied only to tribes “under Federal jurisdiction” on the date of the IRA’s enactment. Under the IRA, land is to be placed into trust status only for “the purpose of providing land for Indians.” The act defined “Indian” to mean “all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction.” The court held that any tribe not “under Federal jurisdiction” as of that date is ineligible to place land in trust.

Carcieri compelled the Secretary to conduct a deep inquiry into whether applicant tribes were “under Federal jurisdiction” in 1934 in anticipation of legal challenges to politically sensitive trust acquisitions, particularly those made for gaming purposes. But proving the requisite relationship between the federal government and the tribes is very difficult, as many tribes lack documentation of that relationship – largely due to the anti-tribal “allotment” policies that preceded the IRA’s enactment in 1934 and the termination policies that followed it in the 1950s.

After the Carcieri decision, tribes immediately pushed for a “clean” legislative fix from Congress – a bare amendment clarifying Interior’s authority to place in trust for all recognized tribes without limitation and retroactively affirming previous trust decisions. Opponents of off-reservation gaming, however, saw an opportunity to increase the input of local governments in trust acquisitions and even to seek a veto over federal trust acquisitions. Opposition from Indian tribes to a local veto has precluded a legislative fix repairing the damage done by the decision.

Barrasso’s bill affirms the Department’s past and present ability to accept land in trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes but, if passed, would not give local governments the veto power they sought. Instead, it would impose a new process on the Secretary in considering trust applications that increases the input sought from, and consideration given to, local governments affected by trust acquisitions.

First, the bill would require the Secretary to notify contiguous jurisdictions within 30 days of receiving an application to place land in trust and to make the tribal application publicly available on the Department of the Interior website. Those jurisdictions would have 30 days to provide comments. The Department’s current regulations already require notice and comment from the governments exercising jurisdiction over the trust acquisition, so this is a minor change.

Of much greater impact is the bill’s requirement that the Secretary give preferential treatment to those trust applications in which the tribe has entered into a “cooperative agreement” with local governments, defined in the bill as “contiguous jurisdictions.” Those applications would be expedited with a 30-day timeline for a decision approving or denying the application, or 60 days after the completion of NEPA review. This would be a drastic improvement over the current wait time, which can extend to months or even years. Relieving the Department of the requirement to conduct a Carcieri review would save considerable manpower. Those applications without cooperative agreements would still be eligible for approval but would not be expedited.

Many tribal applicants already enter intergovernmental agreements with local governments to mitigate the impacts of tribal development on trust land and pay for county-provided services that would ordinarily be paid for through property taxes, and it is now common for tribal-state Class III gaming compacts to include a requirement that tribes enter such agreements. Under Barrasso’s bill, provisions in cooperative agreements are undefined – the agreements “may include terms relating to mitigation, changes in land use, dispute resolution, fees, and other terms determined by the parties to be appropriate.” Some local jurisdictions likely will read those terms in the broadest sense possible and require the payment of “fees” as consideration for execution of a cooperative agreement.

If the tribe determined the demands of local governments to be too onerous, it would be free to submit an application without a cooperative agreement. In such cases, the Secretary, in approving an application, would be required to independently conduct a “determination of mitigation” that would consider anticipated economic impacts on contiguous jurisdictions, mitigation, and whether the local jurisdictions worked in good faith to reach a cooperative agreement.

The proposed legislation expressly provides for judicial review of final trust decisions. That judicial review is a certainty, because, while the bill does not expressly limit the Secretary’s discretion to place land in trust, it introduces numerous and ambiguous new factors that the Secretary would be required to consider in processing trust applications. Ambiguity invites litigation, and the bill would likely trade Carcieri-based legal challenges to trust acceptances for lawsuits alleging the Secretary’s failure to adequately consider these new factors.

© Copyright 2015 Dickinson Wright PLLC
healthcare background

Five Telemedicine Trends Transforming Health Care in 2016

Telemedicine is a key component in the health care industry shift to value-based care as a way to generate additional revenue, cut costs and enhance patient satisfaction. One of the biggest changes to health care in the last decade, telemedicine is experiencing rapid growth and deployment across a variety of applications.

The quick market adoption of telemedicine is fueled by powerful economic, social, and political forces — most notably, the growing consumer demand for more affordable and accessible care. These forces are pushing health care providers to grow and adapt their business models to the new health care marketplace.

Simultaneously changing is the misconception that telemedicine creates a financial strain or relies on grant funding. Smart health system leadership are creating sustainable telemedicine arrangements that generate revenue, not just cost savings, while improving patient care and satisfaction. Research conducted by the American Telemedicine Association reveals that telemedicine saves money for patients, providers, and payers compared to traditional health care practices, particularly by helping reduce the frequency and duration of hospital visits.

It is expected that the global telemedicine market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3 percent through 2020, eventually reaching $36.2 billion, as compared to $14.3 billion in 2014. And while the growing demand for convenience, innovation, and a personalized health care experience may be the greatest factor, other forces are at work as well.

These five trends will drive telemedicine’s continued growth and transformation of health care delivery in 2016:

1. Expanding Reimbursement and Payment Opportunities

Both private and government payers will continue to expand telemedicine coverage as consumers gain experience with the technology and increasingly demand access to telemedicine-based services. Some health plans have already begun bolstering their coverage of telemedicine, which they view as a form of value-based care that can improve the patient experience and offer substantial cost savings. On the government side, 2016 will particularly see more coverage among Medicaid managed care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans.

While reimbursement was the primary obstacle to telemedicine implementation, new laws requiring coverage of telemedicine-based services have been implemented at the state level, and 2016 will be the year these laws drive implementation in those states. Similarly, providers are becoming increasingly receptive to exploring payment models beyond fee-for-service reimbursement, and 2016 will continue the growth of these arrangements. Examples include institution-to-institution contracts and greater willingness by patients to pay out-of-pocket for these convenient, valuable services.

2. Uptick in International Arrangements

In 2016, more U.S. hospitals and health care providers will forge ties with overseas medical institutions, spreading U.S. health care expertise abroad. These cross-border partnerships will provide access to more patients, create additional revenue and help bolster international brands. According to the American Telemedicine Association, more than 200 academic medical centers in the U.S. already offer video-based consulting in other parts of the world. While many of these are pilot programs, 2016 will see a maturation and commercialization of much of these international arrangements, as they are a win-win for participants in both countries.

The growing purchasing power of middle-class populations in countries like China is giving more patients the means and opportunity to pursue treatment from Western medical centers. We have seen both for-profit and non-profit models for international telemedicine — hospitals partnering with organizations in the developing world to expand health care availability or offering commercial care to customers in nations with areas of concentrated wealth but lacking the capabilities and access of Western health care.

3. Continued Momentum at the State Level

State governments across the U.S. are leading the way in telemedicine expansion. According to a study by the Center for Connected Health Policy, during the 2015 legislative session, more than 200 pieces of telemedicine-related legislation were introduced in 42 states. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring that health plans cover telemedicine services. In 2016, we will see more bills supporting health insurance coverage for telemedicine-based services introduced in various state legislatures.

While state lawmakers are leading the way in incorporating telemedicine into the health care system, two recent developments point to a burgeoning interest at the federal level. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is considering expansion of Medicare coverage for telemedicine, and a bill working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives would pay physicians for delivering telemedicine services to Medicare beneficiaries in any location.

4. Retail Clinics and Employer Onsite Health Centers on the Rise

A recent Towers Watson study found that more than 35 percent of employers with onsite health facilities offer telemedicine services, and another 12 percent plan to add these services in the next two years. Other studies suggest that nearly 70 percent of employers will offer telemedicine services as an employee benefit by 2017. The growth of nation-spanning telemedicine companies such as MDLIVE and the now publicly-traded Teladoc, which offer health services tailored to the specific needs of employers and other groups, is a reflection of the demand for these services.

Additionally, consumers are increasingly willing to visit retail medical clinics and pay out-of-pocket for the convenience and multiple benefits of telemedicine services when telemedicine is not covered by their insurance plans. Both CVS Health and Walgreens have publicly announced plans to incorporate telemedicine-based service components in their brick and mortar locations.

5. More ACOs Using Technology to Improve Care and Cut Costs

2016 will be the year of telemedicine and ACOs. Since the advent of Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), the number of Medicare beneficiaries served has consistently grown from year to year, and early indications suggest the number of beneficiaries served by ACOs is likely to continue to increase in 2016. These organizations present an ideal avenue for the growth of telemedicine.

While CMS offers heavy cost-reduction incentives in the form of shared-saving payments, only 27 percent of ACOs achieved enough savings to qualify for those incentives last year. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of ACOs use telemedicine services, according to a recent study. We believe the widespread need to hit the incentive payment metrics, coupled with the low adoption rate will lead to significantly greater telemedicine use among ACOs in 2016.

© 2015 Foley & Lardner LLP

Employment Law This Week – Episode 5 – Week of November 16, 2015 [VIDEO]

We look at the latest trends, important court decisions, and new developments that could impact your work.  This week’s topics …

(1) OSHA Fines Rise

OSHA fines are set to increase for the first time in 25 years. Under the new bipartisan budget bill, OSHA civil penalties will rise next year to reflect the difference between the Consumer Price Index in 1990 and in 2015—an increase of as much as 82%. After this “catch up” adjustment, the fines will keep pace with inflation moving forward.

(2) Supreme Court to Review ACA’s Contraception Opt-Out

The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) birth control provisions are heading back to the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether the ACA’s opt-out process violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the opt-out, religious organizations do not have to pay for contraception, but other accommodations are made so that employees will still receive coverage. The high court will review a consolidation of seven cases to decide whether the opt-out “substantially burdens” religious freedom. Like last year’s landmark Hobby Lobby decision, this case addresses the extent to which corporations have the same rights as natural persons and how those rights affect a company’s legal obligations towards its employees. This is the latest case, but undoubtedly not the last one, on this topic.

(3) NLRB Finds That Chipotle Illegally Fired Worker for Discussing Wages

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Chipotle illegally fired an employee for participating in minimum wage protests. The NLRB ruled that the firing by the chain was a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Though the employee’s supervisor claimed he was fired for poor performance, the NLRB found that the firing was motivated by the employee’s participation in the protests and his discussion of pay with other employees. Other restaurants are facing similar charges from the NLRB arising from the “Show Me 15” protests.

(4) Wages for Off-the-Clock Security Screenings

Two federal class actions challenging off-the-clock security screenings reach different outcomes. Bath & Body Works recently agreed to settle a suit in California over unpaid overtime and off-the-clock security inspections. But a federal judge in the same state dismissed a similar class action against Apple in which retail workers claimed that they should be compensated for time spent having their bags checked. The judge concluded that the employees were not performing job duties and could avoid the screenings by not bringing a bag or cell phone to work.

(5) In-House Counsel Tip of the Week

Eugene Schlanger, a regulatory and compliance attorney, gives some advice on how to prepare for employment issues before they arise.

©2015 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

Closeup of a doctor holding a tablet computer with a chalkboard screen with the words Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Man is unrecognizable.

Going Before a Higher Power – Nuns Take on Obamacare

On Nov. 6, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeals of several religious employers challenging the contraceptive mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The court will consolidate seven cases, the most prominent of which was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who dedicate their lives to helping the elderly poor.  The other employers include several Catholic dioceses, a religious non-profit group and several Christian colleges.

The contraception mandate requires religious employers who object to providing contraceptive services to notify the government of their objection, which transfers the responsibility of providing those services to the employer’s insurer.  The petitioners argue that this procedure violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it effectively forces the employer’s health plan to cover services the employer finds objectionable.  They argue that the government has less restrictive means available to provide these services.

The consolidation of these seven cases is particularly interesting because the employers have varied insurance arrangements.  While some of the employers are insured by large insurance carriers, others are self-insured, or have “church plans” as defined by ERISA.  It is unclear whether these different arrangements will affect the outcomes for the particular employers.

The court is expected to hear oral argument in the case in March 2016.


Part 2: Influencing the Client Experience – Takeaways from LMA Capital’s Half Day Program

On October 29th, a record number of legal marketers attended LMA Capital’s half day program to discuss how to best influence the client experience. Part one discussed how marketers can address a few major concerns of clients: how the firm can add value to the representation, how a firm can build a strong client team to address issues like credit and succession planning, and how to grow client relationships through better scoping and budgeting. This part will wrap up the final three TED-style talks for the program.

Communication and Managing Expectations – Exceed Their Expectations Every Time: How to Communicate with Clients in Good Times and Bad

Mary Panetta, of Blank Rome LLP, took to the podium in her talk about managing client expectations. Understanding the goal of why you are at the table is crucial to understanding client’s expectations. Sometimes the goal of litigation isn’t always to win, sometimes it’s to acquire the client, or to settle. Ms. Panetta emphasized that it’s important to make no assumptions about what the clients goals are; always ask. If partners are not involved in connecting on a daily basis with the clients to find out what is going on at the company, the client is not going to feel like the firm understands their needs and they are not going to come back with return business. Another key point Ms. Panetta hit on is that it’s important to tell the truth about everything, including budgets. For the firm, it’s important to monitor the budget aggressively and if there is an issue or potential overage on the horizon, share the information with the client early and without alarm. Marketers can help the firm’s lawyers in the process as well by understanding what’s at stake and helping deliver the news to the client either by scripting a dialogue or being present when the call needs to be made. Clients are much more amenable to scope changes when they are appropriately notified and walked through what happened. Also, in this market, there is potential for the client to seek out other services that may cut into the work that the law firm does. Ms. Panetta advises firms to embrace these inevitable market disruptors and present them to your client as a collaborative process. This may be counterintuitive to the firm’s bottom line, however, partnering with a disruptor is a way the firm can bring value to the client and builds vast amounts of goodwill.

Affinity Group Initiatives – Developing Client Relationships Through Affinity Groups

When it comes to working with affinity groups in the firm, Dawn Afanador, of Gibbons P.C., reminded the audience that the groups are still client focused. The Women’s Initiative at her firm is focused on educating women and their clients, give back to the community and their client’s causes, mentor their women and their clients, and provide networking opportunities for women and their clients. Ms. Afanador has found that their women’s initiative to be one of their best client relationship building programs. Rather than focus on having bigger events with high attendance, her firm scaled back the size of the events and narrowly focused on areas of law that address their key client’s needs. The intimacy of the smaller programs, such as focused roundtables, succeeded in helping client engagement and presented opportunities for cross marketing. Firm groups also have an opportunity to help their clients with initiatives they may not be able to achieve on their own. For example, a company might want to get more involved in meaningful pro bono work, but has a small legal department and limited resources. The firm’s pro bono group would be able to collaborate with the client to help them further their pro bono initiative by providing them with support and training. Affinity groups can also add value to networking opportunities: people don’t have time to simply network anymore, so providing programs where your in-house team can learn something and network with others is invaluable. When starting an initiative, it’s important to have some small wins to generate excitement about the initiative. As the initiative grows, don’t be afraid to evolve the program based on client’s needs and feedback from folks internally.

Complacency and Responsiveness – Using Innovation to Motivate and Empower Attorneys and Connect with Clients

To round-out the TED-talks, Jennifer Castleberry of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, discussed how her firm uses innovation to motivate and empower attorneys and connect with clients. Her firm has created an innovation initiative, DWT De Novo, that focuses on technology, process improvement and people. When they began the program in 2013, they started by first listening to the client’s pain points, which eventually led to the appointment of a chief innovation partner that promoted the initiative at all of their offices. On this roadshow, they worked with people in the firm to solicit their pain points so they can figure out how best to create an initiative that is focused on addressing everyone’s concerns. In response to these concerns, the firm was able to create several tools that are designed to help placate client concerns. For example, their team developed a template for attorneys to summarize, for the client, how the firm has added value, in some ways that aren’t apparent to them. Attorney’s customize this to their clients so they get a clear picture of their relationship with the firm. They also spent a lot of time listening to what client’s wanted in a client dashboard, and used their input to create a “dashboard of the future”. Their dashboard includes realtime matter tracking, financials, as well as curated pieces that are specific to the client using the dashboard. These tools were designed specifically to provide efficient, transparent, and cost-effective legal services for their clients.

Following the TED talks, the audience broke-out into discussion tables where each table was tasked with coming up with five action items specific to a particular TED talk, and we all came together in the end to share the action items.  Firms should rally their teams to create their own action items so that they are able to better address the myriad of client concerns. Considering these major areas of concern, adding value, credit, succession planning, billing and budgets, communication, managing expectations, and responsiveness, is crucial to creating a positive client experience.

Copyright ©2015 National Law Forum, LLC

Influencing the Client Experience – Takeaways from LMA Capital’s Half Day Program Part 1

The LMA Capital group brought together a record number of legal marketers in the D.C. area on Wednesday, October 29th to discuss how best to positively influence the client experience and foster lasting relationships between their firms and clients. Tara Weintritt, partner at Wicker Park Group, kicked off the program by setting the scene for attendees. In the past, law firms focused on touting their experience and success in handling particular matters. However, Tara elaborated that smart, capable, intelligent lawyers are baseline characteristics. Clients want to know how you can help them and what it’s like to work with you. After speaking with over 1,500 in-house counsel, the folks at Wicker Park Group have been able to identify seven major areas of concern that are consistently at the forefront of these decision-makers’ minds: adding value, credit, succession planning, billing and budgets, communication, managing expectations, and responsiveness. Tara provided direct quotes from actual client interviews as an introduction to attendees, but six thought leaders in the legal marketing industry gave in-depth (but brief!) TED-style talks to really drill down to the heart of why these are concerns for clients, and what can be done to address these concerns.

Adding Value –  Creating a Culture of Strategic Business Intelligence

Gina Lynch, of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, kicked off the first TED talk. Clients want to know how you can add value to the relationship that does not show up on the billing report. This is where competitive intelligence teams are valuable in influencing the client experience. Firms must go above and beyond the requisite skills required for establishing the business relationship, which are thorough writing and analysis skills. The firm counterpart must demonstrate that he or she can understand the complex research.  CI teams must fully understand the work the client does. Ms. Lynch elaborated, “they need to be able to talk like your client, act like your client”. It not enough to present a report to the client. They want to know how this is relevant to them, what their competitors are doing and what their long-term strategy might be. Ms. Lynch also advocates for the CI team to be outside of the marketing department so it can be involved in all aspects of the firm’s relationship with the client: intake/pitch, research, knowledge management and retention. This circles back to the notion that it’s critical to understand the work the client does. Finally, the relationship should be client-focused! This is a no-brainer as members of the team should be living in the client’s world so it can play offense when a problem comes up. If a CI team is strategically informed, it can spot opportunities for growth (or damage control) when a new situation arises.

Credit and Succession Planning – Creating Strong Client and Industry Teams for the Long Term

Ms. Weintritt, at the start, elaborated that a major concern clients have is not being involved in or more aware of transitions within the firm. Tara Derby, of Reed Smith LLP, in the next TED talk, discussed how to mitigate this concern, and ultimately develop a long-term, successful relationship with the client by creating strong client teams. A successful client team will be focused on leadership, collaboration, a proactive and intuitive approach, and strategic client engagement. There are two things that need to be accomplished in order to build a strong client team: 1) the right client relationship leader must be selected, and 2) he or she needs to work hand in hand with the key account manager, or client relationship driver. This leader needs to be organized, efficient, client-facing and engaging. It’s important that the correct leader and team be in place or else service provided to the client will be only mediocre. Teams are only effective when there is a high level of collaboration across the firm, but people that are part of the team need to make a positive impact on the client. Strong client teams are proactive, not reactive, and to do so requires the team to know the client’s needs, culture, and ultimately how they think. Clients will feel understood and listened too because the relationship is 100% centered around their needs.

Billing and Budgets – Doing Your Homework: Strengthening and Growing Client Relationships Through Better Scoping, Budgeting and Risk Assessment

Since the major shift if the legal industry a few years ago, clients have been more cost conscious. As Melissa Prince, of Ballard Spahr, elaborated in her TED talk, the quality of the work matters less than the value the work provides the client. In terms of cost-effectiveness, clients want transparency in the budgeting process and improved budget forecasting, more than the lowest cost. In terms of scoping, it’s important to develop the client relationship to understand the client’s goals and business objects. This means speaking to the client about their needs before the scoping process. The key thing is to put everything in writing: matter phases, tasks, expected deliverables, proposed timelines and deadlines, responsible time keepers, etc. It’s also key to identify assumptions, that is, to identify what is and what is not going to be included in the matter. In terms of budgeting, use historic financial data to identify ways to improve efficiency. The budget should also be documented in writing as specifically as possible. It should include metrics such as hours work, type of work, who will be completing the task, identifies different hourly rates, and outlines low and high estimates, as well as start and end dates. To preserve a positive client relationship, any overages that arise should be communicated as early as possible. Properly managing their expectations for the scope and budget of the representation will help improve the firm’s efficiency, but also deepen their relationship with the client.

Stay tuned for part 2 of LMA Capital’s Half Day Program.


California Political Contribution Case That 19 Law Professors Missed

Earlier this week, I wrote about an amicus curiae brief submitted by 19 law school professors Friedrichs v. Cal. Teachers Ass’n, a case now pending before the United States Supreme Court.  In particular, I questioned whether these academics properly described the holding Finley v. Superior Court, 80 Cal. App. 4th 1152 (2000).  The professors claimed that the case represented a “rare example” of a court holding that the business judgment rule is a defense to an attack on a corporate contribution.  In fact, the reported holding in the case was that the business judgment rule was a defense to the decision of a special litigation committee.

The 19 law professors also incorrectly described the holding in another California case, Barnes v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 16 Cal. App. 4th 365 (1993) (“claim by policyholder of mutual insurance company seeking to stop insurer from engaging in political activities dismissed because the decision was protected by the business judgment rule . . .”).  Although the Court of Appeal did invoke the business judgment rule in Barnes, it did so in the context of the policyholder’s separate claim that the company was maintaining too large a surplus.  The policyholder’s challenge to political expenditures was made on constitutional grounds and the Court of Appeal’s analysis of that claim did not involve the business judgment rule.

Even though the law professors erroneously cited Finley and Barnes, I do believe that courts should, and do, apply the business judgment rule to director decisions to make political and other contributions.  In fact, the professors overlooked one California case in which the court expressly deferred to the business judgment of the directors. Marsili v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 51 Cal. App. 3d 313 (1975) was a derivative suit challenging the propriety of a political contribution.  Here’s what the Court of Appeal had to say:

Neither the court nor minority shareholders can substitute their judgment for that of the corporation “where its board has acted in good faith and used its best business judgment in behalf of the corporation.”

Quoting Olson v. Basin Oil Co., (1955) 136 Cal.App.2d 543, 559-560 (1955).

© 2010-2015 Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP

Big signboard of Immigration at the airport

December Visa Bulletin Shows Little Movement But Contains Projections for Future Movement

The Department of State’s (“DOS”) December 2015 Visa Bulletin showed minor movements in the employment-based visa categories.  The most significant movement was in the Indian EB-2 category which advanced  by 10 months to June 1, 2007.  All other employment-based categories showed slow advances by few weeks, except for Mainland China EB-3 and Other Worker categories that advanced by 10 weeks to April 15, 2012, and by 12 weeks to August 1, 2006, respectively.  There was no movement in the Dates for Filing in the employment-based categories.

The December Visa Bulletin contained the following additional information:

  1. The Bulletin advised about the upcoming scheduled expiration of the non-minister special immigrant program and the immigrant investor pilot program (“EB-5 Visas”) on December 11, 2015, unless Congress acts to extended these programs.

  1. The Bulletin contained a prognosis of visa movement in the coming months.  For the employment-based visa categories, possible movements are as follows:

  1. EB-2 China:  Little or no movement

  2. EB-2 India:   Up to eight months

  3. EB-3 China:  Rapid forward movement with possible “corrective” action as early as April, 2016

  4. EB-3 India:  Up to three weeks

  5. EB-3 Philippines:  Four to six weeks

  6. EB-5 China:  Slow forward movement

  1. New 9 FAM-e.  The Visa Bulletin announced that on November 18, 2015, the printed Volume 9 of the Foreign Affairs Manual will be replaced by the 9 FAM-e and as of that date the e-version will become the authoritative source for visa guidance.  The new e-version overhauls language and organization of Volume 9 of the FAM, but does not alter the substance of the old printed version.

Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases

december visa bulletin

Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications 

december visa bulletin

©2015 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.
Traffic in tunnel

Ford UAW Workers Defy Logic Of Ricky Bobby With New Tentative Agreement

If you ain’t first, you’re last. Not so, say the Ford UAW workers whose bargaining committee recently reached a new tentative agreement with Ford. While Ford was the last to reach a tentative agreement with the UAW, if the membership ratifies the tentative agreement, the UAW workers at Ford stand to receive a better overall deal than their counterparts at Fiat Chrysler and GM. Highlights of the tentative agreement with Ford include:

  • Investment of $9 billion in the U.S. by Ford over the life of the agreement;

  • $8,500 ratification bonus along with a $1,500 profit-sharing prepayment;

  • Entry level employees can progress to the Tier 1 wage rates within 8 years; and

  • $70,000 retirement incentive for eligible employees.

As with the ratification process for Fiat Chrysler and GM, the UAW membership at Ford will now be asked to vote in the coming days to approve the tentative agreement. The fact that the Ford tentative agreement is already better than the tentative agreements with Fiat Chrysler and GM should aid in the ratification process. Additionally, the UAW has already seen firsthand what works and what does not when it comes to seeking ratification of a tentative agreement in the current automotive climate.

While the bargaining process at Ford seems to be headed in the right direction, GM is still waiting to announce the ratification of its tentative agreement with the UAW. Despite a majority of the hourly production workers supporting the tentative agreement, a majority of the skilled-trades workers voted “no.” Based on the UAW’s constitution, the UAW is required to meet with the skilled-trades members to hear their complaints. Those meetings began this week. We will have to wait and see if the UAW attempts to go back to the bargaining table based on the issues raised by the skilled-trades workers.

© 2015 Foley & Lardner LLP

Group of business people and men handshake reflected onto table with documents.

Branding Challenges: Law Firm vs. Individual Attorneys

As a legal marketer, the challenge of marketing your law firm versus individual attorneys is an ongoing struggle. We have all been in a meeting with a firm’s “rainmaker” who wants to place an ad or produce a handout that doesn’t look like the other materials the firm has produced. Instead, he wants his piece to be different and to “stand out” from the law firm’s brand.

As a marketer, this goes against all we know about brand consistency, including the use of a firm’s logo, fonts, colors and the overall messaging of the law firm.

Which Brand Comes First?

The issues related to law firm brands versus attorney brands parallel the age-old question: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” After all, a law firm cannot exist without attorneys. The fact is, most firms started out with one or two attorneys who had a growing reputation that the firm was built on. As more attorneys were added, the reputation of those attorneys enabled it to continue to grow. However, without a solid brand for the firm, relying on the reputations of the firm’s founders can damage an individual attorney’s ability to attract larger clients with needs that span practice areas.

The reality is that both the firm and its attorneys need to have a symbiotic relationship that balances the individual attorney’s brand and the overall firm brand. Both the marketing professional and the attorney need to relax their egos some and come to an agreeable understanding. Some issues can be averted with pre-planning and tweaking of the firm’s brand guidelines and marketing materials to allow for more flexibility while still maintaining a degree of consistency.

Balancing Brands

Competition is fierce in today’s legal market, so it’s important to have a strong firmwide brand that represents the sum of all the law firm’s parts, including its reputation in the marketplace, its core competencies, its key differentiators, and the experience of its attorneys and the support staff that keep all the wheels in motion. But what room is left to insert visual elements that represent the brand of an individual attorney?

Some brand guidelines are overly rigid, making it impossible to balance the firm’s brand with an attorney’s brand. If this is your case, consider taking a new look at how you can adjust these guidelines to allow for some additional flexibility.

Tweaking Your Guidelines

A firm’s identity is conveyed through its branding elements, such as:

  • The firm logo

  • Brand color

  • Type font

The use of these items is a must to convey the relationship between the attorney and the firm. They create a very strong brand consistency and should be used as much as possible to create an immediate recognition of your firm and brand message. But there can and should be flexibility in their use that includes relocating the standard placement of the logo or use of a secondary color.

More flexibility can also be given to components like photo imagery and other graphic elements These will allow for more personalization of the piece while maintaining consistency across the core brand elements.

Finally, another way to add flexibility to your branding is to create a standard footer on all ads or printed materials that allow for greater personalization across the rest of the collateral.

Adding Flexibility to Your Website

The law firm’s website is an integral marketing and branding tool. It also should be flexible enough to allow attorneys and practice areas to promote themselves in a way that makes sense for their particular markets.

Can attorneys post a blog, upload video content or add photos that will market themselves or their practice areas without interfering with the law firm brand’s use across the site? If not, this is something that needs to be addressed the next time you go through a website revision.

Using Social Media for Your Personal Brand

If you’re looking to promote your personal brand, look no further than social media. Social media is the perfect brand builder for individual attorneys. Lawyers can share blog posts and post other relevant information pertinent to their practice areas.

Not all social channels may fit your personal brand, so enlist your firm’s marketing personnel to help you define what channels are the best fit for you. Remember to maintain consistency across all networks by using the same profile picture. In addition, some social channels work best if you post once or twice a week, while others may require more regular attention. And remember to know your firm’s guidelines as well as your respective state bar association’s rules on social media use. Some actions can be construed as “advertising” and thus are subject to association guidelines.

Law is a professional service. That means that a large part of the decision-making process that determines whether a client hires you or someone else is how much they connect with you as an individual. The way you shape this identity is by honing your personal brand. So attorneys and law firms need to take their brands seriously and figure out how to strike a balance between the firm’s image and that of its individual attorneys.

Article By Alan E. Singles of Jaffe

© Copyright 2008-2015, Jaffe Associates

bank capital markets tax institute san diego

In three weeks! Attend the 3rd Annual Bank & Capital Markets Tax Institute West – December 3-4 in San Diego

When: December 3-4, 2015
Where: The Westin San Diego, San Diego, California

Register today!

We are proud to announce that BTI West will be coming back for a third year! For 49 years the annual BTI East in Orlando has provided bank and tax professionals from financial institutions and accounting firms in-depth analysis and practical solutions to the most pressing issues facing the industry, and from now on professionals on the west coast can expect the same benefits on a regular basis.The tax landscape is continually changing; you need to know how these changes affect your organization and identify the most efficient and effective plan of action. At BTI West you will have access to the same exceptional content, networking opportunities and educational value that have made the annual BTI East the benchmark event for this industry.

In an industry that thrives on both coasts, we will continue to offer exceptional educational and networking opportunities to ALL of the hard-working banking and tax professionals across the country. Join us at the 2nd Annual Bank and Capital Markets Tax Institute WEST, where essential updates will be provided on key industry topics such as General Banking, Community Banking, GAAP, Tax and Regulatory Reporting, and much more.

The Bank Tax & Capital Markets Institute Conference – West will feature a full one-day program consisting of keynote presentation, deep-dive technical sessions, and peer exchange and networking time.

Airport security silhouettes

Customs and Border Protection Announces Expansion of Global Entry to UK Citizens

On November 3, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner announced the expansion of Global Entry to UK citizens. Global Entry, a CBP Trusted Traveler program, allows for expedited clearance of preapproved, low-risk travelers. As an added benefit, Global Entry members are also eligible to participate in the TSA Pre✓ expedited screening program.

The registration process is quite straightforward. UK citizens will apply through the UK Home Office’s website and pay a £42 processing fee. Successful applicants will receive an access code to enter when applying for Global Entry through CBP’s Global Online Enrollment System. The nonrefundable application fee for a five-year Global Entry membership is $100, and applications must be made online. Once an application is approved, a CBP officer will conduct a scheduled interview with the applicant and make a final eligibility determination. Although no traveler is guaranteed expedited screening, this expansion should facilitate travel for low-risk travelers from the UK significantly.

Similarly, US citizens are eligible to apply for the UK’s trusted traveler program, Registered Traveller. Members enrolled in Registered Traveller may use e-gates at airports in the UK. The service costs £70 to apply and an additional £50 a year thereafter. If an application is unsuccessful, the applicant will receive £50 back. To qualify for Registered Traveller, a US citizen must make four trips to the UK per year.

Copyright © 2015 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

E-Verify to Destroy Old Records

E-Verify LogoE-Verify has announced that effective Jan. 1, 2016, in compliance with the National Archives and Records Administration’s retention and disposal schedule, it will destroy all transaction records older than 10 years.  Thus, all transaction records created prior to Dec. 31, 2005 will be destroyed.  Further, E-Verify will delete, on an annual basis, all transaction records that are more than 10 years old.

E-Verify has created a new Historic Record Report that will include all transaction records over a 10-year period.  If you wish to get the Historic Record Report, it must be downloaded before Dec. 31, 2015.  To download the Report, please log into E-Verify where you will find instructions to download the Report.

It is always recommended as best practice to record the E-Verify case verification number on the related I-9 form.  It is now also recommended that employers also retain the Historic Records Report with the Forms I-9.

Article By Shaoul Aslan of Greenberg Traurig, LLP
©2015 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

Russia’s New Advanced Development Territories Law: Far East Focus

An initiative to spur investment in this underdeveloped region.

Amid the ongoing loud noise surrounding the situation in Ukraine (and in Syria) and the related sanctions and counter-sanctions, a new Russian development initiative seems to have slipped under the radar. But it is worthy of note—particularly for potential investors in Russia’s Far East. This has all the more potential importance in the context of Russia’s recent pronounced political and economic pivot toward Asia. The Law on Advanced Development Territories (the ADT Law, or the Law), enacted in December 2014 and entered into force in spring 2015 (and the related simultaneously adopted acts that make corresponding amendments to the Tax Code and some 20 other laws) set out the “rules of the road” for these ADTs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September spotlighted this ADT program prominently. A number of new projects were announced at that forum or earlier, and most recently at an international forum in Harbin, China.

In a separate related development, in July, a so-called “Free Port of Vladivostok” was established within Vladivostok city and a few neighboring municipalities – which provides benefits and incentives to investors similar to the ADT Law, and with an enhanced exemption regime for customs clearance and immigration. The fiscal benefits of the Vladivostok free port come into force in January 2016, but a major Korean conglomerate is reported to be eyeing this opportunity.


The ADT regime is somewhat similar to Russia’s existing Special Economic Zones (SEZ), which came into being under the 2005 Law on SEZs and some earlier regulations. These programs have had only mixed success. But the central focus of the new ADT regime is different: while SEZs have been aimed primarily at spearheading various industries (such as innovative technologies, ports, or recreational complexes), the ADTs are to address the general unevenness in development across Russia’s vast territory by incentivizing investment in more depressed areas—starting with the underpopulated and relatively neglected Far East.

As initially drafted, the ADT Law was to be confined to the Far Eastern Federal District alone. This geographical limit no longer applies so generally under the Law as enacted. But for the first three years, under special transitional provisions, it will apply only in the Far East and in certain sole-core-employer cities “where the social and economic situation is particularly drastic.”

The Law further directs the government to appoint a special authorized body (AB) charged with various ADT supervisory and planning functions. So far only the new Ministry of Eastern Development (established in 2012) has been appointed as such an AB—for the Far Eastern Federal District. For all practical purposes the Law will apply essentially in the Far East, at least initially. The Ministry has already adopted various implementing regulations envisaged under the Law. Further, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who is also the president’s plenipotentiary in the Far Eastern Federal District, has pledged strong support for the ADT program alongside other measures for development of Russia’s Far East.

As of September, the government has already approved the establishment of nine ADTs, including Komsomolsk (in the Khabarovsky Krai), Khabarovsk (covering several districts within Khabarovsk City and elsewhere), Nadezhdinskaya (in the Primorsky Krai), and some others in Kamchatka, Yakutia, and Amurskaya Oblast. The first specific ADT projects announced at the Vladivostok Forum and on other occasions (taking into account the most recent Harbin EXPO) include the following:

  • Construction of a bitumen plant by a Chinese-owned Singapore company together with Russia’s Independent Petroleum Co. (NNK) in the Khabarovsk ADT
  • An Australian coal company’s proposed investment into the transport infrastructure of the Beringovsky ADT in Chukotka
  • Recreational infrastructure facilities (including a golf club) to be financed and constructed by a Japanese company in Vladivostok
  • A proposed major agricultural enterprise investment by Russian interests at Mikhailovsky ADT in Primorsky Krai (the precise location is not yet identified)
  • German investors’ readiness to provide some 20 billion rubles to the Kamchatka ADT
  • A planned 50 billion rubles investment for infrastructure development in the Primorsky ADT
  • A coal-loading terminal to be constructed by Sakhatrans in Khabarovsky Krai (estimated investment of 30 billion rubles)
  • A truck-building plant (and dealership and service centers) project to be undertaken together by Chinese Sinotruk and the Far-Eastern Road and Construction Company in the Komsomolsk ADT

Government Decree

Under the Law, an ADT is created by a government decree for a term of 70 years. Such decrees are based on a proposal by the Authorized Body. This proposal, in turn, is supposed to be based on preliminary agreements with one or more prospective investors into the planned ADT. A special federal government commission will also play a role in ADT selection and formation.

The relevant government decree will set out the main ADT parameters, including its territorial limits (no overlap with an SEZ is allowed), types of commercial activities eligible for benefits to ADT residents (in contrast to SEZs, there are no economic sector limits for such activities are established in the Law), minimum investment and technology requirements, and a few other aspects. These decrees presumably will take into account the preliminary agreements with prospective investors mentioned above.

Tripartite Agreement

After the base government decree is adopted, the AB (again, for practical purposes, this is the Ministry of Eastern Development for now) and the relevant regional and municipal authorities are to enter into a tri-partite agreement to regulate various obligations and procedures for the ADT in question. This includes the regional and municipal authorities’ obligations on transferring of land plots and facilities into ownership by or lease to the management company (see immediately below on this point) or granting the management company the authority to manage such land plots and facilities, financing and operation of the infrastructure facilities, the conditions for granting property and land tax holidays to ADT residents (see more on tax and other exemptions below), and other aspects.

Management Company

An important player in an ADT’s actual functioning is its management company (MC). Under the Law, an MC is a 100% federally owned joint stock company that is designated as such by the government. An MC will have a broad range of powers, authority, and functions for its ADT(s). For example, an MC will (itself or by delegation to a subsidiary) do the following:

  • Act as an infrastructure construction customer (in Russian, zastroischik)
  • Ensure or organize the functioning of the ADT infrastructure
  • Take ownership or lease of federally or municipally owned land plots, buildings, and various infrastructure facilities (on certain conditions)
  • Facilitate connection into the utilities networks for ADT residents and service providers
  • Draft proposals for relevant amendments to municipal and other zoning plans
  • Organize the construction of roads and installation of infrastructure facilities
  • Provide various services to ADT residents

The government has already appointed a joint stock company Korporatiya Razvitiya Dalnego Vostoka (in English, Far East Development Corp.) as such an MC—again, with respect to the whole Far East District.

ADT “Residents”

To become an ADT resident, a commercial company (or individual entrepreneur) needs to file an application with the MC that includes a business plan and proposal for the types of activities to be performed and the level of investments and then enter into an activities performance agreement with the MC reflecting the investment obligations as well as the MC’s obligations. The Ministry of Eastern Development in its capacity as AB has already approved a template of such agreement following the ADT Law guidelines. Per the Law, once an ADT is established and running, there are limits to the grounds for an MC to reject an application and refuse to enter into a contract with a potential resident. The main (and quite general) recognized ground is inconsistency between the applicant’s proposal and the ADT’s particular parameters. It remains to be seen how the activity agreements will be negotiated in practice, as more experience is gathered for substantial new proposed investments.

ADT residents will be incentivized by an array of fiscal and administrative measures, including the following:

  • Exemption from or reduction of taxes on corporate profit, mineral extraction, and property and land
  • Customs free zone (if approved by the decree enacting the ADT)
  • Reduction of Social Security payments
  • A system of special protections and guarantees regarding state supervision (only “joint inspections” by various authorities, to be conducted per a schedule approved by the AB, etc.)
  • Exemption from foreign employee quota (if approved by the ADT’s supervisory council)
  • Reduction of educational and medical care administrative burdens (including admission of foreign-trained doctors and use of best foreign educational methods)

Some of these incentives are fairly similar to those applied to SEZs, including tax and customs holidays and state-inspection limitations.


The new ADT Law appears to open real new investment opportunities, primarily in the Far East. Yet one should be mindful of various restrictions in using this Law’s benefits—including that the potential resident has to be registered within the ADT territory and, if it is a commercial company, it may not have branches or other subdivisions outside of the ADT  (sister companies are permitted). More preconditions apply to the associated tax benefits under the revised Tax Code. Time will tell how effective the ADT Law will be in attracting much-needed new investment to Russia’s Far East.

Article By Jonathan H. Hines & Alexander V. Marchenko of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Copyright © 2015 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Budget Deal Alters Reimbursement to Off-Campus Hospital-Owned Facilities

Prior to the Act, covered out-patient department (“OPD”) services included services provided by facilities meeting the complex hospital-based rules, even if the facility was not physically-located on the campus of the hospital. Subject to the grandfather provision discussed below, the Act adds a specific exclusion to the definition of covered OPD services, making services furnished by an off-campus outpatient department of a hospital ineligible. The Act provides that a facility is “off-campus” if it is not within 250 yards of the hospital’s main buildings (including for this purpose, a “remote location of a hospital,” meaning a separate in-patient campus of the hospital, which is a helpful clarification in an otherwise problematic law). Facilities deemed “off-campus” are ineligible for Medicare reimbursement at the hospital outpatient rate.

The inclusion of a grandfather provision will mitigate some of the Act’s impact, as facilities currently treated as “hospital-based” will not be impacted by the change in law. Only facilities that are not billing as “hospital-based” as of the date of enactment will be ineligible for reimbursement at the hospital outpatient rate. It is unclear whether a conveyance of an off-campus grandfathered facility would eliminate the grandfathered status and the ability of the buyer to bill for the services as “hospital-based.” The Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) forecasts that the government will reap significant cost savings from the lower rates that will apply; an October 28, 2015 analysis from the CBO projects that the change in reimbursement policy will provide $9.3 billion in relief by 2025.

© 2015 Proskauer Rose LLP.

‘Fight for $15’ Walk-Outs and Protests Continue; Are You Prepared for November 10?

national labor relations boardContinuing its three-year campaign, “Fight for $15” on November 4, 2015, announced plans for worker strikes and protests at fast food restaurants in 270 U.S. cities on November 10. The protests, timed to occur one year prior to the 2016 presidential election, is calculated to send a message to voters and candidates. Protests will culminate with a march on the November 10 Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee.

While the fast food workers involved in the walk-outs are not represented for purposes of collective bargaining by a labor union, the walk-outs have largely been organized and funded by the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”). Employers with union contracts who have lived with the possibility of strikes are generally more familiar with the rights and obligations of employees and employers under the labor law than their non-union counterparts. But now that walk-outs and work stoppages are becoming an accepted strategy in the non-union workforce, non-union employers need to know the rules, too. Indeed, over three years of protests, scores of unfair labor practice charges have been filed against non-union employers alleged to have interfered with employee participation in protected activity. Moreover, on November 4, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) upheld a decision finding that a St. Louis Chipotle Grill unlawfully discharged an employee because he engaged in fight-for-$15 protests.

“Protected, Concerted Activity”

Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the right to engage in group activity for the purposes of “mutual aid and protection.” Thus, whether a union is involved, if two or more employees acting in concert walk off the job to protest work conditions or enforce demands relating to the terms of their employment, the walk-out, or strike, generally is protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. (Quickie, intermittent work stoppages might not be.) Under these circumstances, it would be unlawful to discipline or discharge (or otherwise disadvantage) employees for walking off the job. It also means that unless the employees have been permanently replaced (discussed below), the strikers are entitled to be returned to their jobs when they make an unconditional offer to do so.

Lawful Employer Responses to Protected Concerted Activity

Employers are not without rights in dealing with protected concerted activity (“PCA”). First and foremost, employers have a right to continue business operations. This can be accomplished by assigning managers or hiring replacement workers to do the work of the employees who walked off the job. If the strike is not caused by an employer unfair labor practice, employers have the right to designate the replacement workers either as permanent or temporary. (If the strike is caused by an employer unfair labor practice, employers have the right to designate the replacement workers only as temporary.)

If replacement workers are designated as temporary, when the strikers offer to return to work, the employer is obligated to lay off the temporary workers and put the strikers back to work.

When the employer designates the replacements as permanent, when the strikers offer to return to work, they are placed on a preferential hiring list. In that situation, the employer is not obligated to lay off the replacements, but when positions open up through normal attrition, the employer first has to offer those openings to the former strikers who are on the preferential hiring list.

Walk-outs in the fast food industry have been short, however, typically rendering the hiring of replacement workers impractical. As a practical matter, employers may have to rely on managers or other employees who are not participating in the strike.

Violence and Other Picket Line Misconduct

Employees lose the protection of the NLRA if they engage in certain improper conduct. This includes intermittent or “quickie strikes.” Generally, strikers lose the protection of the NLRA when they engage in a pattern of striking for short periods, returning to work briefly, and then striking again. By engaging in this type of conduct, strikers effectively deny the employer the ability to run its business either by relying on its regular employees or by hiring replacements. The NLRA does not prevent the employer from issuing discipline or discharging employees who participate. However, before taking action, employers should consult counsel and be absolutely certain the particular job action is unprotected.

Other activities that are unprotected include stay-ins or sit-down strikes. A stay-in or sit-down strike occurs when employees refuse to work and also refuse to vacate the employer’s premises. Strikers seek to force the employer to accede to their demands by bringing operations to a halt, preventing the employer from operating. This type of trespasser activity generally is unprotected.

Slow-downs are another tactic sometimes used to impede production. Work is deliberately performed ever more slowly; the employer cannot conduct business and customers fume. Slow-downs are not protected and can be addressed by discipline or discharge.

Lawful Responses to Unprotected Activity

Strikers, of course, are allowed to picket on public property near their place of employment to publicize a labor dispute. They, however, are not privileged to engage in threats, physical assaults, trespass, or property destruction. When they do, employers have these remedies available:

1. Law Enforcement: The most immediate relief available is to call the police. Just because employees ostensibly are engaged in a strike does not immunize them from prosecution when they commit crimes.

2. State Court Injunction: Another remedy is to seek a state court injunction to prohibit violence. This is particularly helpful when there is mass picketing, obstruction of traffic, and blockages of entrances, and the police have difficulty controlling the situation. In these kinds of cases, employers seek court orders prohibiting further violence or destructive activities and limiting to a reasonable number the number of picketers at a particular location at any given time, so police can assure public order.

3. Employer Discipline and Discharge: If the threats, violence and property destruction are egregious enough, the employees involved lose the protection of the NLRA, which means they can be discharged or disciplined. (However, a full investigation should be conducted before the employer takes action to determine what the employee actually did or said. In addition, investigation of past discipline in similar situations not involving protected concerted activity is important because the rules (under the NLRA) prohibit discrimination against employees who engage in such activity. In other words, if, in the past, an employee who was not participating in protected concerted activity engaged in violence for which he was suspended, an employee who engages in similar violence while partaking in protected concerted activity generally also should be suspended, rather than discharged.) Employees should not suffer greater discipline for their misconduct because it occurs while they engage in activity the law protects.

While there is no bright line for evaluating when misconduct becomes unprotected, some general guides may be kept in mind. For example, simple name-calling, momentary blocking of ingress and egress at employer facilities, and simple trespass onto an employer’s property, without any accompanying destruction or violence, probably will not be sufficient to cause the employee to lose the protection of the NLRA. However, physical assaults, participating in extended blocking of ingress or egress, and property destruction are generally the types of conduct that will cause an employee to lose the protection of the NLRA.


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