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Eligible Recipients of Incentive Stock Options

Granting “incentive stock options” qualifying under Section 422 of the Internal Revenue Code (“ISOs”) can often result in more favorable tax treatment to the recipient, provided that the recipient holds the option and the optioned shares for the required period of time. When granting ISOs, it is important to make sure that the plan document and administrative procedures only permit such options to be granted to eligible recipients. For purposes of ISOs, eligible recipients are limited to employees of a granting corporation (or its subsidiaries that are corporations). Independent contractors, non-employee directors, and employees of entities that are not corporations for tax purposes are ineligible to receive ISOs.

IRS Private Letter Ruling Approves Student Loan Repayment Feature in 401(k) Plan

A recently released IRS Private Letter Ruling (the “PLR”) describes a potential approach for an employer to integrate a student loan repayment program with the employer’s defined contribution plan. As described in the PLR, the employer proposed to amend its 401(k) plan to permit employees to enroll in a voluntary student loan benefit program (the “Program”) under which the employer would make a nonelective contribution to an employee’s account under the plan for each pay period during which the employee made a student loan repayment equal to a specified amount of eligible compensation. The IRS ruled that, based on the conditions described in the PLR, the Program did not violate the Internal Revenue Code’s “contingent benefit” prohibition (i.e., an employer cannot offer a benefit, other than a matching contribution, that is contingent upon the employee making contributions to a 401(k) plan). The PLR did not address what impact such a… Continue Reading

IRS Provides New Guidance Under Code Section 162(m)

In December 2017, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress broadened the $1 million deduction limitation under Code Section 162(m) for a public company’s top executives by, among other things, broadening the scope of “covered employees” and eliminating the performance-based compensation exception. The more restrictive Code Section 162(m) generally applies for tax years after 2017, but certain arrangements in existence on November 2, 2017, may be grandfathered. On August 21, 2018, the IRS issued new guidance on Code Section 162(m) under IRS Notice 2018-68 (the “Notice”). Notably, the Notice provides guidance with respect to the grandfathering relief (including the impact of negative discretion and what constitutes a material modification), and provides guidance on the expanded scope of who is a “covered employee” (and will remain a covered employee). The Notice leaves open for comment several issues, including, the rule which allows certain newly public companies to limit the application… Continue Reading

OCR Provides Informal HIPAA Guidance Regarding Disposal of Electronic Devices and Media Containing PHI

In a July 2018 newsletter, the Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), the federal agency responsible for enforcement of the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification regulations (collectively, the “HIPAA Rules”), provided informal guidance to HIPAA “covered entities”, such as employer-sponsored group health plans (“Covered Plans”), regarding the disposal of electronic devices and media that house “protected health information” (“PHI”). Examples of such devices and media include desktop and laptop computers, tablets, copiers, servers, smart phones, hard drives, USB drives, and other electronic storage devices. Employer-sponsors of Covered Plans should take note of the following key points raised by the newsletter’s guidance: A covered entity’s performance of a “risk analysis” (which is a required step to comply with the HIPAA Rules) plays a critical role in determining how best to protect PHI stored on electronic devices and media that has reached… Continue Reading

Class Action Case Certified for Failure to Provide COBRA Election Notices in Spanish

A U.S. District Court in the 11th Circuit certified as a class action a case in which the plaintiff argued that her former employer, the Marriott International hotel chain, violated federal law by failing to: (1) provide a COBRA notice in Spanish; (2) adequately explain the procedures to elect healthcare coverage; (3) identify itself as the plan administrator; and (4) provide a notice that an average plan participant would understand. There are over 15,000 potential class members who received the allegedly deficient COBRA notice. Employers subject to COBRA are required to offer employees the option to continue their group health plan coverage after employment termination (among other COBRA qualifying events). These notices need to comply with language and other requirements. Employers that fail to comply with COBRA may face penalties of up to $110 per day for each individual who is sent a defective notice. Vazquez v. Marriott Int’l, Inc.,… Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit Decision Highlights Importance of Distributing Accurate SPDs

A recent case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit provides yet another example of the importance of ensuring that plan documents and summary plan descriptions (“SPDs”) accurately and consistently describe plan benefits. In Pearce v. Chrysler Group LLC Pension Plan, the plan document provided that a participant who was not actively employed at retirement would be ineligible to receive an early retirement supplement. In contrast, the SPD stated that a participant did not need to be actively employed at retirement to remain eligible for the early retirement supplement. This discrepancy became an issue when an employee accepted a termination incentive, and the employer, relying on the language in the plan document, argued that this made the employee ineligible for the early retirement supplement. The employee requested that the lower court (i) grant equitable estoppel to prevent the employer from relying on the plan document, and… Continue Reading

IRS Finalizes Rules Permitting Use of Forfeitures to Fund Safe Harbor Contributions, QNECs, and QMACs

As we previously reported, on January 18, 2017, the IRS proposed amendments to regulations under Section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code that would permit the use of forfeitures to fund safe harbor contributions, qualified non-elective contributions (“QNECs”), and qualified matching contributions (“QMACs”). The IRS recently finalized the proposed amendments, effective as of July 20, 2018, without substantive changes. The prior regulations had provided that employer contributions could only qualify as safe harbor contributions, QNECs, or QMACs if they were non-forfeitable and not eligible for early distribution at the time they were contributed to the plan. The final regulations now provide that safe harbor contributions, QNECs, and QMACs be non-forfeitable and not eligible for early distribution at the time they are allocated to participants’ accounts. View the final regulations.

Reminder: July 31, 2018 Deadline for Annual Reporting and Payment of PCORI Fee Under the Affordable Care Act

The deadline for plan sponsors of self-insured health plans to report and remit the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute fee (“PCORI Fee”) due under the Affordable Care Act with respect to the 2017 plan year is July 31, 2018. For this purpose, a plan year that ended during the 2017 calendar year is considered a 2017 plan year. The PCORI Fee is assessed to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and applies to plan years ending on or after October 1, 2012, and before October 1, 2019. Plans should report and remit the PCORI Fee via a second quarter IRS Form 720. The PCORI Fee is based on a flat dollar amount multiplied by the average number of lives covered under the plan for the applicable plan year. The covered lives fee amount for plan years that ended after December 31, 2016, but before October 1, 2017 is $2.26, and the… Continue Reading

Self-Funded ERISA Health Plans May Opt Into New Law Regarding Out-of-Network Service Providers

New Jersey recently enacted a law that is intended to address the issue of “surprise out-of-network charges” to patients who obtain healthcare from healthcare providers in New Jersey. The law, entitled the “Out-Of-Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act” (the “NJ Act”), applies with respect to patients who have insured health coverage, but may also apply to patients who participate in employer-sponsored, self-funded health plans subject to ERISA (each, a “Self-Funded Health Plan”) if such plans voluntarily “opt in” to the NJ Act. The NJ Act imposes numerous new disclosure obligations on healthcare providers in New Jersey regarding information to be posted on their websites or delivered directly to patients who will receive their services. Such information includes (i) the provider’s network status with respect to the patient’s health benefit plan, (ii) a listing of the standard charges for items and services provided by a healthcare facility and… Continue Reading

Association Health Plan Final Regulations Issued

The DOL released final regulations expanding the groups of employers that may participate in one ERISA-covered employee group health plan (an “Association Health Plan”). Generally, employers (including working owners with no employees) may participate in an Association Health Plan as long as they are in the same industry, state, or metropolitan area. A major benefit of joining together to participate in one ERISA-covered group health plan, as opposed to being treated as maintaining separate ERISA group health plans, is that the total number of employees participating in the Association Health Plan, from all participating employers, will determine whether the Association Health Plan is treated as “large group,” “small group,” or individual coverage for purposes of the mandates under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). The ACA places a number of requirements on small group and individual coverage that do not apply to large group health plans. An Association Health Plan… Continue Reading

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