Lawyers offer advice on employment law changes

published in The Journal Record | March 23, 2009

McAfee & Taft attorneys Charlie Plumb and Bill Freudenrich were interviewed by The Journal Record discussing the increased challenges businesses and their human resources departments are facing with the tough economy and the significant changes in employment and employee benefits laws with a new administration and new Congress in Washington, D.C.

The article highlighted that these topics are the focus of McAfee & Taft’s labor, employment and employee benefits seminar — “The Bottom Line: What You Need To Know to Make Tough Decisions in Tough Times” — coming in April. Sessions will include topics such as downsizing and reductions in force, the Employee Free Choice Act, changes in family leave law and what retirement plan fiduciaries need to know in today’s chaotic market, the article stated.

“We’re anticipating 2009 to have some significant upheavals for employers generally,” Charlie Plumb told The Journal Record.

Plumb, a labor and employment attorney in the firm’s Tulsa office, told The Journal Record he expects “more robust activities” from federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He points to changes in the Family and Medical Leave Act as an example. New regulations provide additional rights for workers while imposing new requirements on employers in terms of notifying employees of their rights and obligations, he told The Journal Record.

Another significant topic of interest for employers is the pending Employee Free Choice Act, which, if it becomes law, is anticipated to lead to increased unionization efforts.

“We’re going to want to be alerting attendees to our workshop to that development and the kind of things they can do proactively, rather than after the fact,” Plumb said.

Bill Freudenrich told The Journal Record that company reductions in force, reorganizations and reductions in work hours present employers with special responsibilities to determine how they affect retirement plans, medical coverage and other benefits.

“Also, we’re going to be focusing in on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” said Freudenrich, an employee benefits attorney in the Tulsa office.

He told The Journal Record that the new law provides that workers who have been involuntarily terminated may be eligible for a nine-month subsidy of their COBRA benefits. Current COBRA law allows former workers to continue their health benefits for a time, paying all of the cost out of pocket.

“There are a lot of nuances in that subsidy and how it works,” he said. “We’re also going to discuss with the plan sponsors how they recoup part of those subsidies through their payroll practices.”