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Regulation

Investment Advice Exemption Confirmed

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.

DOL Finalizes Fiduciary Investment Advice Guidance

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.

Extended Group Health Plan Deadlines Create Risks for Employers

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.

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.

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