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Plan Administration

Plan Administration – A SECURE and CARES Act Reminder

The SECURE and CARES Acts provide a broad spectrum of required and optional changes that employers must evaluate with respect to retirement plan administration.  One impending change is the SECURE Act’s broader eligibility requirement for part-time employees in 401(k) plans, which becomes effective on January 1, 2021.  In addition, employers may be surprised to learn that some CARES Act distribution options were added to their plans automatically by their record keepers through a “default” process.   Thus, employers should review their plan’s administrative procedures to determine if (and how) changes under the SECURE Act and CARES Act were (and are being) implemented to ensure administrative compliance with the plan document.

 

DOL Disaster Relief Notice Extends Deadlines, Enables COBRA Gamesmanship

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidance on April 28, 2020, providing temporary, coronavirus-related relief from many deadlines and requirements under ERISA.  Notably, the guidance relaxes the standards for employers to provide notices electronically, and affords significant latitude to COBRA qualified beneficiaries for electing, and paying for, COBRA continuation coverage.

Employee Benefits in the Age of COVID-19: Brief Answers to Some Common Health Plan Questions

As we are all now intimately aware, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the nature of the workplace, and all of the benefits, rights, and responsibilities arising out of employment.  We are operating under a new set of rules, and those rules are changing daily.  Employers’ efforts to manage their workforce in order to maintain fiscal viability while protecting the health of employees also affect benefits.  The cascading effect of these factors raises many thorny benefits questions.  We will summarize – and attempt to answer – a few of those questions here (based on the legal landscape as of March 31, 2020).

“CARES” Act and Defined Benefit Plans

The CARES Act signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, includes relief for defined contribution plans, but defined benefit plans also received some relief.  In addition, the IRS issued guidance that includes an extension for employers to adopt a pre-approved defined benefit plan.  And, employers should remember their option to decrease the age at which employees may request an in-service withdrawal from defined benefit plans.

“CARES” Act Requires Immediate Decisions by Retirement Plan Sponsors

A third round of relief from the coronavirus pandemic has made its way through the Senate and House and has been signed by President Trump. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or “CARES”) Act provides over $2 trillion in relief for businesses and individuals. It also offers new avenues for defined contribution retirement plan participants to withdraw funds from their accounts in order to pay COVID-19-related expenses, if their employer elects to open those avenues. Some of the largest 401(k) and 403(b) plan record keepers are forcing employers to make that choice on just a few days’ notice.

SECURE ACT – Defined Benefit Plans

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the “SECURE” Act) has broad implications for retirement plans.   Although the Act’s primary focus is on defined contribution plans, several provisions of the Act and its sister legislation apply only to defined benefit plans.

This is the fourth in a series of articles describing key provisions of the legislation.  Our focus in this article is on the provisions applicable to defined benefit plans – in-service withdrawals, required minimum distributions, and nondiscrimination testing relief.

SECURE Act – Broad Implications for Retirement Plans

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, which includes the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (the “SECURE” Act). The SECURE Act amounts to the most significant retirement legislation in more than a decade.  Our focus in this article is on the legislation’s effect on retirement plans generally, including provisions broadly applicable to defined contribution, defined benefit, 401(k), 403(b), and certain 457(b) plans.

SECURE Act Generates Changes and Opportunities for Retirement Plans

In the waning days of 2019, President Trump signed into law the most significant retirement legislation in more than a decade.  The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement – or “SECURE” – Act includes far-reaching changes that affect qualified retirement plans, 403(b) and 457(b) plans, IRAs, and other employee benefits.  In a series of articles, we will describe key provisions of the Act.  Our first article provides an overview of the Act’s key provisions and their effective dates.  Some of the changes under the SECURE Act are effective immediately, while others are effective for plan or tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.  Although the Act generally provides sufficient time to amend plan documents, employers must modify certain aspects of plan administration (and potentially financial planning decisions) now to align with the SECURE Act’s more immediate requirements.

IRS Again Grants ACA-Reporting Relief (Plus a Limited Bonus)

In Notice 2019-63, the IRS has granted health insurers and large employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate 2019 ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees.  Rather than January 31, 2020, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2020.  The IRS has also extended the “good-faith” standard for compliance with these reporting rules.  Finally, in view of the zeroing out of the penalty for failing to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate, insurers and large employers will now have an additional compliance option.

Department of Labor Proposes New Safe Harbor for Electronic Disclosures

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a  new “safe harbor” rule to allow retirement plan disclosures to be posted online (assuming certain notice requirements are satisfied) to reduce printing and mailing expenses for plan sponsors and to make the disclosures more readily accessible and useful for plan participants.

IRS Finalizes Hardship Distribution Rules

The IRS has issued final regulations modifying and clarifying the rules for in-service hardship distributions from 401(k) and 403(b) plans.  The final regulations are substantially similar to the proposed regulations issued in November of 2018, but they contain a few changes of which plan sponsors should be aware.

An Uncashed Check is Taxable

The IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2019-19 to describe the tax and reporting treatment of uncashed distribution checks from tax-qualified retirement plans.  The ruling describes a situation in which a plan is required to make a distribution and the participant receives the distribution check, but does not cash it.  The ruling makes clear that, regardless of why the participant does not cash the check (or even if the participant cashes the check in a later year), the distribution is subject to applicable tax withholding and reporting in the year in which the distribution is made.  In addition, the participant must include the distribution in his or her gross income for that same year.

Cyber Liability Insurance for Employee Benefit Plans: Hackers and Malware and Phishing – Oh My!

Cyberattacks have managed to invade all walks of life, and employee benefit plans are no exception.  When a plan is attacked, the fallout can be overwhelmingly expensive and burdensome to correct.  Many plan sponsors are purchasing cyber liability insurance coverage to supplement their data security measures.  Understanding those policies – and their exclusions – is important for sponsors who are exploring such coverage.

Federal Appellate Court Decision Highlights Importance of “Firestone” Language

In a recent decision, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resolved an important question in a way that should put administrators of ERISA plans in a far stronger position vis-à-vis claimants who disagree with the administrators’ plan interpretations.  Essentially, the court in Clemons v. Norton Healthcare Retirement Plan held that the contract-interpretation doctrine of “contra proferentum” has no application once a court has determined that a plan document grants the administrator the type of broad discretion approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1989 Firestone decision.

Congress Eases Restrictions on Hardship Withdrawals

Buried in Sections 41113 and 41114 of the recent Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 are provisions designed to facilitate hardship withdrawals from 401(k) and 403(b) plans.  Because these provisions take effect for plan years beginning after December 31, 2018, sponsors of these plans will want to consider whether to broaden their hardship withdrawal provisions – or even add such provisions.

New Disability Claims and Appeals Procedures Finally Take Effect

When the Department of Labor (“DOL”) delayed by 90 days the date by which ERISA plans were required to comply with a set of disability claims and appeals regulations issued in the waning days of the Obama Administration, we predicted that a further delay – or even a complete withdrawal – of the regulations could be in the works.  As it turns out, we were wrong.  Instead, the DOL announced in early January that the regulations will become fully applicable on April 1st – and without change.

It’s a Three-Peat: ACA-Reporting Deadline Extended Once Again

The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). For health coverage provided during both 2015 and 2016, the IRS extended the deadline for issuing certain of the required reporting forms. In Notice 2018-06, the IRS has now granted a similar extension with respect to reporting health coverage provided during calendar-year 2017.

Administration Proposes Delay of Disability Claims and Appeals Procedures

The Department of Labor has proposed a 90-day delay in the applicability of disability claims and appeals regulations that were finalized in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Rather than applying to claims filed on or after January 1, 2018, the regulations would now apply to claims filed on or after April 1, 2018. Moreover, it seems likely that a further delay – or even a complete withdrawal – of the regulations could be in the works.

Treatment of “Collateral” Employees Under Retirement Plans

It is common for employers to contract with one or more third parties (sometimes referred to as “leasing companies”) to provide individuals to perform services for the employer. Various issues may arise regarding the treatment of such individuals under a retirement plan maintained by the employer.

IRS Clarifies Permissible Substantiation Procedures for Hardship Withdrawals

In recent years, sponsors and administrators of 401(k) and 403(b) plans have received conflicting advice on the steps they should take to substantiate an employee’s entitlement to an in-service withdrawal on account of financial hardship. For instance, an April 2015 IRS newsletter seemed to require that plan sponsors obtain and retain documentary proof of an employee’s entitlement to a hardship withdrawal. However, two recent internal IRS memos outline a permissible approach to this substantiation requirement that need not involve conditioning a hardship withdrawal on an employee’s provision of supporting documents. Plan sponsors should thus consider this new alternative.

DOL Disability Regulations and the Impact on ERISA Plans

The Department of Labor has issued final regulations under Section 503 of ERISA that purport to enhance the disability benefit claims and appeals process for plan participants. These regulations amend the DOL’s disability claims procedure regulations issued in 2002. The new regulations generally affect the procedures for filing disability benefit claims, providing notice of adverse benefit determinations, and appealing adverse benefit determinations.

ACA-Reporting Deadline Extended by 30 Days

The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed additional reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). In Notice 2016-70, the IRS has granted coverage providers and employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees for coverage provided during 2016. Rather than January 31, 2017, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2017. In addition, the IRS has extended by one year the period of “good-faith compliance” with these reporting rules. As of now, however, the IRS has not extended the deadline for coverage providers and employers to transmit these ACA-reporting forms to the IRS.

You’ve (Still) Got to Be Kidding: Supreme Court Holds ERISA Plan Participants May Ignore Reimbursement Provisions If They Spend the Money Fast Enough

The Supreme Court has handed down its latest in a long line of decisions on enforcing the reimbursement provisions of self-funded ERISA welfare plans. As evidenced by the Court’s lopsided 8-1 decision, the result in Montanile v. Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan will not surprise those familiar with the law in this area. But as indicated by Justice Ginsburg’s indignant dissent, plan sponsors may find the decision downright bizarre. After all, it tells participants who double-recover for medical benefits paid by their employer’s health plan that they’re off the hook – if they spend the money fast enough.

2016 Inflation Adjustments

Following recent announcements by both the IRS and the Social Security Administration, we now know most of the dollar amounts that employers will need to administer their benefit plans for 2016. The key dollar amounts for retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”) are shown on the front side of this card.

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Impacts Benefit Plans (Again)

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court published its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding (by a 5 to 4 margin) that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license marriages between two people of the same sex, and to recognize any such marriage that is lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. As a result, all (remaining) state laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage are now invalid.

IRS to Plan Sponsors: You Must Retain Documentation for Loans and Hardship Withdrawals

Most sponsors of defined contribution plans rely on a third-party administrator (a “TPA”) to handle participant loans and hardship withdrawals—typically through the TPA’s website. However, in guidance issued last week, the IRS cautions that the sponsor—not the TPA or the participant—is responsible for maintaining documents proving that those transactions comply with the law.

Another Court Enforces DOL’s Electronic SPD Rules

At some point, as electronic communication becomes the norm – and as paper virtually disappears from the workplace – we will surely see a softening of the conditions imposed by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) on the electronic distribution of summary plan descriptions (“SPDs”). But a recent decision by a New York federal court confirms that we are not yet at that point.

Davidson v. Henkel: A Rather Taxing Decision

A recent decision by a Michigan federal trial court serves as a warning to employers that their failure to shield participants in nonqualified deferred compensation plans from adverse tax consequences may subject the employers to unanticipated liability. Although this decision (in Davidson v. Henkel Corporation) involved FICA taxation, the court’s reasoning would seem to apply equally to the 20% penalty tax and interest assessments triggered by a violation of Code Section 409A.

Employee Benefits Plans – 2015 Inflation Adjustments

Following recent announcements by both the IRS and the Social Security Administration, we now know most of the dollar amounts that employers will need to administer their benefit plans for 2015.

When Does 9.5% Equal 9.56%?

Although 9.5% has been a key threshold in determining the “affordability” of employer health coverage, the IRS has just announced (in Revenue Procedure 2014-37) that this threshold will be adjusted to 9.56% for 2015. This adjustment reflects the fact that health insurance premiums have risen more rapidly than incomes. Similar adjustments have also been announced for related percentage thresholds.

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