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Updates on Employee Benefits Regulations Impacted by the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Freeze

On January 20, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum (the “Memo”) calling for a 60-day freeze on regulations that had not taken effect as of the date of the Memo, which included certain regulations related to employee benefits (see our prior blog post regarding the Memo here). The Memo also authorized additional postponement of such regulations following the 60-day period where deemed necessary for further review. Listed below are some of the previously discussed proposed and final regulations related to employee benefits that were impacted by the Memo and updates to their effective dates: Independent Contractor Status Under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Final Rule. Effective date is delayed until May 7, 2021. There is also a proposed withdrawal of this rule with comments due by April 12, 2021. Medicare Program; Secure Electronic Prior Authorization for Medicare Part D. Final Rule. Effective date was delayed until March 30, 2021.… Continue Reading

Voluntary Correction Program Applications – Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (“VCP”) submissions, which is available here. The errors listed generally relate to issues associated with the submission of files in the correct PDF format, failing to pay the correct user fee, or the incorrect submission of the Form 8950. Filing a VCP application can be a useful method for plan sponsors to correct operational issues that have spanned numerous years or  other issues for which self-correction is unavailable. Errors in the submission can delay resolution of the application or, in some cases, cause a rejection of the application. In addition to the common errors outlined by the IRS, plan sponsors should also use care to avoid the following additional common issues: Failure to Submit a Comprehensive Filing – If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… Continue Reading

IRS Announces that Purchases of Personal Protective Equipment are Tax Deductible

In Announcement 2021-7 (the “Announcement”), the IRS clarified that the costs to purchase personal protective equipment (“PPE”), such as masks, hand sanitizers, and sanitizing wipes, for the primary purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19, are tax deductible as a medical expense. Specifically, the amounts paid for PPE will be treated as amounts paid for medical care under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code. The costs of PPE are also eligible to be paid or reimbursed by health flexible spending arrangements, Archer medical savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, and health savings accounts. However, if the PPE expense is paid or reimbursed by such an arrangement or account, then the expense will not be tax deductible as a medical expense. The IRS also stated that group health plans may be amended to provide for the reimbursement of PPE expenses incurred for any period beginning on or after January 1, 2020… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Decision is a Reminder to Employers on Structuring Severance Plans

Last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Atkins v. CB&I, LLC is a reminder that employers may prefer to structure bonus and severance programs so as to be covered by ERISA and thus avoid being subject to unfavorable state laws. In Atkins, five employees brought suit in Louisiana state court claiming their employer’s project incentive bonus plan—which pays a single bonus payment to employees who are laid off or complete their roles in a specific project—constituted an illegal wage forfeiture agreement under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act. Each of the employees had quit and consequently forfeited their bonuses under the plan’s terms. The employer removed the suit to federal district court claiming the bonus plan was a severance plan subject to ERISA and thus ERISA, as controlling federal law, preempted the employees’ state law claims. The district court agreed. The Fifth Circuit reversed… Continue Reading

Upcoming Compliance Deadline

Beginning April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “Subsidy”) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or a reduction in hours of employment. For more information on the Subsidy, please see our prior blog post here.

American Rescue Plan Enhancements to Employee Retention Credit

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) extended the employee retention credit through the end of 2021 and enhanced the scope of employers eligible to claim the credit by adding two new employer categories: (i) “recovery startup businesses” and (ii) “severely financially distressed employers”.  A “recovery startup business” is a business that was created after February 15, 2020 and has annual gross receipts of no more than $1,000,000. Recovery startup businesses may claim the employee retention credit (capped at $50,000 per quarter) even if they do not otherwise qualify for the credit (i.e., they neither experienced a complete or partial shutdown due to a COVID-19 governmental shutdown order nor had a decrease in gross receipts of at least 20% for the applicable quarter). A “severely financially distressed employer” is an employer who had a decrease in gross receipts of at least 90% for the applicable quarter, and such employers… Continue Reading

New Required COBRA Premium Subsidy

Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “Subsidy”) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Under the ARPA, the federal government will reimburse the employer, in the form of a tax credit, the cost of the premiums for up to six months, from April 1 to September 30, 2021. Specifically, the Subsidy will end on the earliest of: (i) September 30, 2021; (ii) the date the qualified beneficiary becomes eligible for other health plan coverage or Medicare; or (iii) the date the qualified beneficiary’s COBRA coverage period ends. Further, any individual who would have been eligible for the Subsidy, had he or she previously elected, or continued, COBRA coverage, will have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage under a special… Continue Reading

ARPA Relaxes Funding Requirements for Single Employer Defined Benefit Pension Plans

Section 9705 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) extends the amortization period for prior year shortfalls from seven to 15 years, beginning with the 2022 plan year (or, at the election of the plan sponsor, the 2019, 2020, or 2021 plan year). Section 9706 of the ARPA both modifies and extends the funding stabilization percentages for single employer defined benefit pension plans through 2029 and allows plan sponsors to elect whether to have these modified percentages apply for all purposes or solely for the purpose of determining the plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage.  The plan sponsor may further elect whether to apply the modified percentages beginning with the 2020, 2021, or 2022 plan year.  The ARPA is available here. 

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the “Statement”), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” final rule (the “ESG Rule”) and the “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” final rule (the “Proxy Voting Rule”, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the “Final Rules”). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of “pecuniary factors,” and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary’s obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

Big Increase in Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account Limit for 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”), which was enacted on March 11, 2021, temporarily increases the maximum amount that an employee is permitted to contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account (“FSA”) from $5,000 to $10,500 (or from $2,500 to $5,250 for a married person filing a separate return) for the taxable year beginning in 2021. The increased dependent care FSA limit is an optional change that a plan sponsor may choose to incorporate into its dependent care program included under its cafeteria plan. This change, combined with the change under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”), which authorizes a cafeteria plan to permit participants to make prospective changes to their dependent care FSA contributions (see our prior blog post regarding the CAA here), allows participants to increase contributions to their dependent care FSAs in 2021. In order to implement the new dependent care FSA limit, the… Continue Reading

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