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Keeping Your Wellness Program Healthy

For years, employers have used wellness programs with the hope they would help improve employees’ overall health while simultaneously reducing group health plan costs. The pandemic has presented challenges for wellness programs though, as employees have found it more difficult to meet the requirements for discounts because of lockdowns and fears of COVID-19. To address these challenges, some employers are considering modifications to their programs to allow employees to qualify for discounts if they obtain a flu or COVID-19 vaccine. Before adopting any changes, employers should use caution, as wellness programs are subject to numerous legal requirements, including requirements under the ACA, ERISA, HIPAA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. By carefully evaluating changes and considering the myriad of legal requirements applicable to wellness programs prior to implementing any changes, plan sponsors can avoid jeopardizing the legal health of their wellness programs.  Our prior blog posts regarding wellness program compliance… Continue Reading

New COBRA Subsidy Guidance Addresses Outstanding Issues

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-46 (the “Notice”), which provides new guidance in the form of FAQs regarding the application of the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “COBRA Subsidy”). The Notice supplements the IRS’s prior Notice 2021-31 regarding the COBRA Subsidy and addresses additional matters. Issues addressed in the Notice include, among others, (i) the availability of the COBRA Subsidy in situations where an individual is entitled to notify the plan administrator, but has not yet done so, of his or her eligibility for an extended COBRA coverage period due to a disability determination or the occurrence of a second COBRA qualifying event, (ii) the loss of an individual’s entitlement to the COBRA Subsidy with respect to dental and vision coverage when he or she becomes eligible to enroll in other group health plan coverage or Medicare that does not provide dental… Continue Reading

Retirement Plan Cybersecurity—Truth, Justice, and the DOL Way

At a time when digital security and cyberattacks are key concerns for individuals and businesses alike, plan sponsors and other plan fiduciaries have a key role to play in protecting retirement plan assets and data. Otherwise known as “responsible plan fiduciaries,” these individuals and certain plan service providers have a fiduciary duty to ensure there is a robust cybersecurity program in place to keep plan assets and data secure. As we previously reported on our blog here, the DOL recently issued guidance in this arena to keep employers and plan fiduciaries compliant. The DOL is now specifically targeting employers and plan fiduciaries who fail to adequately protect employee retirement plan assets from hackers and cyberthieves, so the time to act is before the DOL issues a plan audit and before participants are victimized by cybercriminals or hackers. The DOL requires that plan fiduciaries responsible for prudently selecting and monitoring service… Continue Reading

IRS Updates Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Audit Technique Guide

The IRS recently updated its Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Audit Technique Guide (the “Updated Guide”), which replaces the previous version published in June 2015. The Updated Guide provides more detailed guidance on the legal standards applicable to deferred compensation arrangements, including the addition of specific citations to relevant regulations and revenue rulings. Notably, the Updated Guide also includes significantly expanded discussions about Code Section 409A and its application to deferred compensation arrangements. Code Section 409A, and other regulations impacting deferred compensation, are very complicated and can carry substantial penalties and taxes for noncompliance. As Congress and the Biden Administration look for additional sources of funding for their initiatives, heightened IRS audit activity may be on the horizon. The Updated Guide is a good reminder to employers that they should periodically review their nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements, not only for documentary compliance but operational compliance as well. The Updated Guide is available… Continue Reading

Keep Mental Health Parity Compliance Documentation at the Top of Your Compliance To-Do List

As discussed in our prior blog posts, available here, here, and here, an employer must maintain documentation demonstrating that its group health plan is compliant with mental health and substance use disorder parity rules. The DOL has made compliance with these rules a high priority, and DOL enforcement efforts have begun. Employers should follow up with their medical, network, prescription drug, and other third-party service providers to define expectations and set deadlines for the production of information that employers need for the required reporting. Given the amount of detail, effort, and coordination that this compliance documentation requires, employers should ensure that a compliant report can be timely provided if there is a DOL inquiry.

ERISA Lawsuit Alleging Worker Misclassification Is A Reminder to Employers to Monitor Their Employee Classifications

A plaintiff recently filed suit against Yum! Brands, Inc. (“Yum”), Taco Bell Corp. (“Taco Bell,” together with Yum referred to herein as, the “Employers”), and various other defendants under ERISA over the alleged misclassification of his employment status. The complaint states that common law employees were eligible to participate in certain retirement plans maintained by the Employers (collectively, the “Plans”) pursuant to the Plans’ governing documents. The plaintiff alleges he met the common law test for employee status but was classified as an independent contractor, instead of an employee, during his 25 years of employment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that during the relevant employment periods, the Employers controlled the work he performed and the manner and means by which he performed his work, such as by directing the specific order and sequence of his work and requiring him to attend employee-only events and meetings. The plaintiff further alleges that other… Continue Reading

Updates to Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System

In Revenue Procedure 2021-30 (“Rev. Proc. 2021-30”), the IRS made certain updates to the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”), including updates to the Self-Correction Program (“SCP”) and the Voluntary Correction Program under EPCRS. Among other updates, Rev. Proc. 2021-30 expands the correction methods for benefit overpayments by adding (i) the “funding exception correction method,” which provides an exception to corrective payments for plans that meet certain funding requirements, and (ii) the “contribution credit correction method,” which prescribes the amount of overpayments required to be repaid to the plan under certain circumstances. Further, Rev. Proc. 2021-30 (i) expands the circumstances under which plan sponsors may correct operational failures under the SCP by plan amendment, and (ii) extends, by one year, the end of the SCP correction period for significant failures. Rev. Proc. 2021-30 is available here. 

Prepare Benefits Materials in Consideration of the Surprise Medical Billing Rules and Model Notice

As employers prepare group health plans, SPDs, and other employee benefits materials for 2022, they need to consider the new surprise medical billing requirements under the No Surprises Act of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Interim final rules were recently released for these new requirements, which are generally effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. Provisions that may need to be changed include those regarding: (i) coverage of emergency services, including the definitions of emergency services and emergency medical conditions, how benefit payments are calculated, and coverage for out-of-network, independent freestanding emergency departments; (ii) network cost-sharing for out-of-network providers at network facilities who do not obtain consent for non-emergency services; and (iii) coverage of out-of-network air ambulance services. In addition, there is a new notice required that must be made publicly available, posted on a public website of the plan, and included in the plan’s… Continue Reading

IRS Extends Tax-Relief for Employees?ÇÖ Leave-Based Charitable Donation Payments

In Notice 2020-46, the IRS provided guidance regarding cash payments made by employers to certain charitable organizations for the relief of COVID-19 victims under employer-sponsored, leave-based donation programs (see our prior blog post about Notice 2020-46 here). Under such donation programs, an employee could elect to forgo paid vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments made by his or her employer to qualifying charitable organizations for the relief of COVID-19 victims, without having such amounts being included in his or her taxable gross income. Under Notice 2020-46, such cash payments had to be made before January 1, 2021; however, in Notice 2021-42, the IRS extended this relief period to include qualifying cash payments that are made after December 31, 2020 and before January 1, 2022. Notice 2021-42 is available here.

IRS Further Extends Temporary Relief from Physical Presence Requirement for Certain Retirement Plan Consents

As we previously reported here, in June 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-42 (available here) which provided temporary relief from the physical presence requirements for certain participant and beneficiary elections under qualified retirement plans. The IRS recently issued an advance version of Notice 2021-40 (available here) which extends the temporary relief for an additional year, through June 30, 2022. Under this extended relief, participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a notary public will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if remote notarization is done through live audio-video technology that otherwise satisfies the requirements of Treasury Regulations ?º 1.401(a)-21(d)(6) and is compliant with state law applicable to notaries. Participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if (i) the person signing the participant… Continue Reading

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