Avoiding Employment Threats

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Employment Lawsuits

Avoiding Employment Threats
After over a decade of educating Doctors on the importance of asset protection, we are seeing a noticeable increase in awareness. Unfortunately, the majority of Doctors who fail to employ asset protection planning give the same excuse: “Doctors never lose malpractice lawsuits with awards above coverage limits.” This is wrong for two reasons. First, half of jury awards against physicians are over $1,000,000. Second, malpractice suits are only a small percentage of the awards against Doctors. A less visible but arguably larger concern is that an employee will file a suit against the Doctor. In the larger version of this article, we will discuss the challenges of employment liability, which may result in very expensive defense costs—even in the event of fraudulent cases that you win. We will give some examples of cases that may be of interest, explain increased risks in the information age and offer some solutions.

The Risk Of Employment Lawsuitspost 13
Over the past 20 years, there have been monumental changes in the employment arena. There are a host of Federal Laws that have been put in place to protect employees’ rights and open the possibility for lawsuits against employers. Many argue that these laws are appropriate to protect the rights of workers while employers often argue that these laws place undue restrictions on their ability to manage their firms.
Regardless of which side of the issue you sit, the reality is that there are numerous “Laws of the Land” which employers must follow. Inclusive of these are the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act]; the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]; FMLA [Family Medical Leave Act]; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; The Civil Rights Act of 1991; and many more. In addition to the federal law, California’s laws add another layer to these regulations. So what does it all mean? It means that you have to learn how to protect yourself against one of the fastest growing areas of liability.
What many employers—including Doctors—face today is the challenge of working in an ever increasingly complex world of employment regulations and guidelines. Most small business owners may have few resources with which to address human resources concerns and little or no training. This can result in the owner being held financially responsible for any mistakes they may make. It means that age-old established practices may plot a course for a company to end up in ruin. It means that business owners—including Doctors—must pay greater attention to how they hire employees; how they supervise them; and how they terminate them.
This environment has fueled the growth of Human Resources (“HR”) outsourcing. Many firms have established themselves as specialized providers of these functions for businesses, with the intent of alleviating the business owner’s HR headaches. While these firms do provide reliable HR services, they typically do not provide liability coverage for the companies they serve, especially in the realm of employee suits claiming sexual harassment, unlawful termination or discrimination. So, while business owners may benefit from outsourcing some HR tasks, they cannot outsource the risk and their companies are still responsible for their own actions. Insurance policies that address these risks are available to protect against catastrophic liability—one example is EPLI [Employment Practices Liability Insurance], also known as HIRE insurance (see www.hireins.com for more information). If the risk is real, and protective insurance is available, why are the vast majority of small business owners, including Doctors, operating without such coverage?
To small business owners, this type of coverage has historically been out of reach due to cost restrictions. Thankfully, this is now beginning the change. More affordable coverage solutions are making their way into the market. In fact, low deductible policies with coverage amounts as high as one million dollars can now be found. These more accessible policies, coupled with employment risk management services, provide a shield that can protect small business owners—including Doctors—from these potentially devastating claims.

Protecting Your Practice
There are two ways to protect your practice assets from risks. First, you can insure against the risk, effectively sharing the risk and passing it along to someone else. Second, you can assume the risk yourself and use asset protection and risk management strategies to protect assets from the threats. The second strategy is covered in Lesson 6. Here we will focus on passing off all of that risk to other people through insurance.
Fewer than 5% of small businesses (and, we imagine, even fewer medical practices) have any insurance coverage providing protection from employment-related lawsuit risks. This is despite government statistics clearly indicating that this threat is a growing problem. Additionally, recent federal court rulings have begun finding owners and management “personally liable.” This means that just incorporating a business will NOT, by itself, protect a business owner from being found personally and financially liable in employment-related suits. Thus, insurance coverage is key to protecting a business owner’s interests.
A solid EPLI policy coupled with a comprehensive risk management course can be obtained today for under $2,500 (sample for businesses of 10 employees or less). Retaining these services provides small business owners with the tools necessary to enforce the protections of the insurance coverage. By coordinating an insurance policy and consulting services, the small business owner/Doctor can expect to see a significant reduction in the threat posed by an employment lawsuit. Contact the authors at 877-656-4362 for more information.

Risks In The Information Age
Information is the currency of modern America. The role of the Internet—and its ability to locate and distribute information—has exploded in recent years. It has become the source of much of our information—our de facto provider of answers, so much so that the first thing a person will do when faced with a potentially life-changing issue is often to “Google it.”
What else, then, would you expect of an employee that feels they were treated unfairly? Most likely, they will explore the information available online and learn that they may have options available to them. In More

Using Qualified & Non-Qualified Plans

Posted by & filed under Business Owners, Doctors, Healthcare, Legal.

Asset Protection

Using Qualified & Non-Qualified Plans
This section discusses two topics which are related and can contribute to the practice being both a Fortress and an Engine. However, the article is unique in that almost every Doctor takes advantage of the first option—qualified plans—while almost none utilize non-qualified plans. We will discuss both popular qualified retirement plans and less common non-qualified plans here, so that you can be aware of options that are available to you and, hopefully, get more out of your hard work, build greater wealth and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Use Qualified Retirement Plans
A “qualified” retirement plan describes retirement plans that comply with certain Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service rules. You might know such plans by their specific type, including pension plans, profit sharing plans, money purchase plans, 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Properly structured plans offer a variety of real economic benefits, such as:
· The ability to fully deduct contributions to these plans.
· Funds within these plans grow tax-deferred.
· Funds within these plans are protected from creditors.
In fact, these benefits are likely the reasons why most medical practices sponsor such plans.
For this chapter, we will include IRAs as “qualified plans” even though, technically, they are not. We are doing this because IRAs have essentially the same tax rules as qualified plans and have the same attractions to Doctors who can use them.
As you will learn in Lesson #6 on asset protection, qualified plans and IRAs enjoy (+5) protection in bankruptcy—for asset protection purposes.
You can learn more about their tax benefits (and drawbacks) in Lesson #7. You will see that the obvious tax benefits may be outweighed by the less obvious tax drawbacks.
With qualified plans (not IRAs), they must be offered to all “qualified” employees (within certain restrictions). For a Doctor owner, there may be some economic costs to having a plan which you must offer to, and contribute for, everyone at the office or at related businesses. With these mixed benefits and drawbacks, it is surprising how many Doctors (nearly 100%) use qualified plans and ignore their cousins, non-qualified plans, which are far less restrictive. Review the following chart so you can better understand the pros and cons of qualified plans.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Qualified Plans
Benefits
Tax deductible contributions
Highest level of asset protection (+5)
Tax-deferred growth Drawbacks
You must contribute to plan for all
eligible employees
All withdrawals subject to ordinary income tax rates
Penalties for access prior to age 59
Must take minimum distributions at age 70
May be taxed at 75% or more at death

post 10Your Qualified Plan “Bet” on Future Tax Rates
In other parts of the book, we cover most of the benefits and drawbacks of qualified plans in more detail. Here, we want to make sure you understand the bet you are making on future tax rates when you rely on qualified plans heavily for your retirement. Since all amounts that come out of qualified plans (and SEP and roll-over IRAs, of course) are 100% income taxable, there is no way to know how good (or bad) a financial deal such a plan could be for you until you know the tax rates when you withdraw funds.
In other words, if you contribute funds to a qualified plan today (when the top federal income tax rate is 35%) and withdraw funds when income tax rates are at the same or a lower level, the deduction today and tax-free growth over time is likely a “pretty good deal” for you. However, if you withdraw funds from your plan and the top federal tax rates are 40%-50% or higher, then the qualified plan/IRA may be a “bad deal” for you. Certainly, future federal income tax rates of 50% or more could make qualified plans a very negative long term investment proposition for you.
[Clarification Point: Some folks may argue that, in retirement, doctors are likely to have less income and thus the plan distributions will be taxed at lower rates. While this may be likely for 95% of taxpayers, many doctors will build enough wealth in retirement and non-retirement assets to be in the top marginal tax rates in retirement. The second highest marginal income tax rate (2% less than the highest rate) goes into effect when a married couple earns TOTAL income of only $200,300 in 2008. If you are single, divorced or widowed, that second highest rate applies to income above $164,550. Do you think that your total income will be less than $164k or $200k when you add in retirement distributions, Social Security, rental income, and any investment gains from non-pension assets? In many cases, doctors are going to retire only when their retirement assets will generate incomes equal to their last year’s salary. For most of our clients, this is the retirement game plan—retire only when they can maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed]
With this is mind, review the history of US income tax rates chart below. Putting aside politics, you must understand that it is certainly a possibility that tax rates can return to the levels they were for most of the 20th century. If they do, qualified plans utilized today by most doctors may turn out to be “losing bets” in the long run. Since we cannot know what future tax rates will be, we need to at least acknowledge the bet we are making and ask how we can reduce our risk and perhaps hedge against such a losing bet.

A New Concept for Investing—Tax Treatment Diversification
Does the fact that our qualified plans today may turn out to be losing bets mean that we should abandon them? In most cases, the answer is “no.” These plans generally have the strongest asset protection available and provide significant incentives for employees. We would strongly recommend, however, that EVERY doctor make investments that offer a hedge against potential tax rate increases.
The concept here is that you should have various More