Investment consultants and other service providers who advise plan participants and fiduciaries about rollovers and investment choices received another reprieve from new rules governing that advice. But the reprieve is only temporary; those consultants and advisors must be prepared to comply by February 1, 2022.
Regulations recently promulgated under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and statutory requirements enacted under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”) both include new transparency requirements applicable to group health plans. Unfortunately, however, there is substantial overlap and inconsistency among those twin transparency rules, creating confusion among plan sponsors and health care providers. Guidance issued in August by the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services attempts to resolve that confusion.
On April 14, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) issued cybersecurity guidance for retirement plan fiduciaries and service providers, as well as plan participants. In the guidance, the EBSA states that ERISA fiduciaries are required to take appropriate steps to mitigate internal and external cybersecurity threats to plan participants and retirement plan assets. To assist fiduciaries and service providers in fulfilling this obligation, the EBSA issued two documents that describe cybersecurity best practices – Cybersecurity Program Best Practices and Tips for Hiring a Service Provider. The EBSA also issued some basic rules – Online Security Tips – to help participants reduce the risk of fraud and loss to their retirement accounts.
On February 12, 2021, the Department of Labor issued a press release confirming that the new fiduciary investment advice guidelines under Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 will go into effect on February 16, 2021. The Department also confirmed that the temporary enforcement relief provided by Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-02 will remain in place until December 20, 2021.
The Biden administration previously issued a memo to regulatory agencies suspending new regulations issued during the waning days of the Trump administration. The purpose of the suspension is to provide the incoming administration with the opportunity to review those regulations. As a result, there was some question whether the Exemption would become effective.
On December 15, 2020, the Department of Labor finalized its new guidelines for fiduciary investment advice. Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 both clarifies the circumstances under which financial institutions and investment professionals are considered “fiduciaries” under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, and also establishes a new framework under which such fiduciaries may provide services and receive compensation.
The preamble to the final Exemption provides the Department’s long-awaited final interpretation of when investment advice – such as a recommendation to roll over retirement plan assets to an IRA (or between IRAs) – creates a fiduciary relationship under ERISA or the Code. The substantive terms of the Exemption allow investment advisers who are fiduciaries to receive compensation and engage in principal transactions that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules.
The Exemption applies to SEC- and state-registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, insurance companies, and their employees, agents and representatives that are investment advice fiduciaries under the newly interpreted “five-part” test of fiduciary status. It imposes certain conditions to protect the interests of retirement plans, participants, beneficiaries, and IRA owners. The Exemption is set to become effective February 16, 2021, absent a delay by the Biden Administration. Thus, employers will need to be aware of the Exemption and its conditions in their engagement of (and interactions with) plan service providers.
Deadline relief afforded by a new DOL and IRS Joint Notice during the COVID-19 national emergency significantly changes the administration of both self-funded and fully insured group health plans. Some of the extended deadlines are already causing confusion and increasing compliance risks for employers.
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.
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).
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.
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.