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Approaching Deadline for Cash Balance Plans to Submit IRS Determination Letter Applications

Sponsors of retirement plans that use a statutory hybrid benefit formula (e.g., cash balance plans) have until August 31, 2020 to submit such plans to the IRS for a favorable determination letter. However, because “interested parties” must be notified of the filing at least ten days in advance of the submission, the decision on whether to file must be made sooner (within the next week or so). Among other things, under this special determination letter cycle for cash balance plans, the IRS will review plan provisions implementing the final cash balance plan regulations. This is true even if the plan’s cash balance formula was in place when the plan received a prior favorable determination letter. The guidance allowing for the special cycle for cash balance plans is available here.

Review Investment Policy Statements for ESG Investment Compliance

The DOL recently updated its “investment duties” regulation to provide further guidance in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) investing, which we previously posted on our blog here. As the DOL increases its investigations and inquiries into ESG investments held by retirement plans, plan fiduciaries should review their plan investments and policies to: (i) determine if their retirement plans hold any ESG-type investments, and (ii) if they do hold such investments, (a) review their investment policy statements (“IPS”) and evaluate whether such policies comply with the current rules for ESG investments (and will comply going forward with the DOL’s guidance), and (b) confirm whether such investments remain appropriate for the plan. Plan fiduciaries may need to consult with their financial/plan advisors to determine if ESG-type investments are currently held by their plan. If a plan holds ESG investments and the IPS does not address such investments,… Continue Reading

Proceed with Caution When Modifying Equity-Based Performance Awards

Most equity-based performance awards for employees that will vest at the end of 2020 were granted well before the COVID-19 pandemic began (in fact, many were granted two years or more before the pandemic), and none of the performance metrics for these awards likely anticipated the havoc the pandemic has caused to the companies’ financial and stock performance. In many cases, the pandemic has rendered these equity-based performance awards worthless to employees because the performance metrics are not even remotely achievable. Yet, employees have been working harder than ever to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Some employers looking for ways to continue to reward and retain employees are eyeing modifications of existing equity-based performance awards to either lower the target and stretch performance goals or to eliminate the performance requirement completely, at least for awards vesting in 2020 (making the awards solely time-based). Before proceeding with any such modifications,… Continue Reading

Cross-Plan Offsetting Practice is Challenged in Class Action Lawsuit

This class action lawsuit, styled Scott, et al. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on July 14, 2020. This lawsuit follows the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Peterson v. UnitedHealth Group Inc. that was issued last year. In Scott, the plaintiffs, who were participants in the plans at issue in Peterson, filed, on behalf of a class of plaintiffs (the “Class”), a class action against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiaries (collectively, “UHC”), in their capacities as an insurer and/or third-party claims administrator of employer-sponsored group health plans. The lawsuit alleges the breach of UHC’s fiduciary duties under ERISA as related to UHC’s practice of “cross-plan offsetting.” The Class consists of participants and beneficiaries in all group health plans that are administered by UHC and contain “cross-plan offsetting” (collectively, the… Continue Reading

Target’s $1.6 Million COBRA Notice Settlement Offer: Employers, It’s Time to Review Your COBRA Election Notices

As we discussed in our prior blog post here, there are many reasons why an employer needs to review its template COBRA election notice, such as for the new extended COBRA deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new DOL model notice, and dramatically increased class action litigation challenging the legal sufficiency of COBRA election notices. These cases have resulted in significant expenditures being incurred by the targeted employers. These cases typically allege that a deficient or misleading COBRA notice caused a former employee (or other COBRA qualified beneficiary) to lose health coverage because the notice lacked required information or was not written in an understandable manner. For example, plaintiffs recently proposed a $1.6 million class action settlement to resolve allegations that Target Corporation failed to provide adequate COBRA election notices. Many employers use third-party vendors to prepare and distribute their plans’ COBRA election notices; however, the employer… Continue Reading

M&A Considerations When the Seller Uses a PEO

Smaller companies often use professional employer organizations (“PEOs”) as a way to reduce benefit costs and to assist with many, if not all, human resources and payroll functions. While PEOs may work well for a company’s day-to-day operations, they can create headaches and complications in corporate transactions. When acquiring a company that uses a PEO, it is important to consider the following: Seller’s representations and warranties relating to employee benefit plan compliance generally include representations and warranties relating to the compliance of the plans it sponsors. Since individual companies do not sponsor PEOs, the typical benefit plan representations and warranties should be modified to include representations and warranties regarding any plans or benefits provided by the seller or its controlled group members plus more limited representations and warranties regarding the plans sponsored by the PEO. Depending on the PEO involved, it may be more difficult to get copies of actual… Continue Reading

Employer Religious and Moral Exemptions to the Provision of Contraceptive Care Remain Intact

In a recent seven-to-two opinion in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rights of certain employers to claim exemption from providing contraceptive care under the preventive care mandate of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) based on religious or moral objections. General Background of the Case The ACA requires covered employers to provide women with “preventive care and screenings” without any cost sharing requirements (the “Preventive Care Mandate”). The ACA relies on “preventive care guidelines” (“Guidelines”) supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”), an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, to determine what “preventive care and screenings” should include. The Guidelines mandate that health plans provide coverage for all FDA approved contraceptive methods. When the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”)… Continue Reading

IRS Publishes Updated Operational Compliance Checklist

The IRS recently published an updated Operational Compliance Checklist (the “Checklist”), which lists changes in qualification requirements that became effective during the 2016 through 2020 calendar years. Examples of items added to the Checklist for 2020 include, among other things: Final regulations relating to hardship distributions; Temporary nondiscrimination relief for closed defined benefit pension plans; Penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans for individuals in cases of birth or adoption; and Increase in age for required beginning date for mandatory distributions. The Checklist is only available online and is updated periodically to reflect new legislation and IRS guidance.  The Checklist does not, however, include routine, periodic changes, such as cost-of-living increases, spot segment rates, and applicable mortality tables, which can instead be found on the IRS’s Recently Published Guidance webpage here. The Checklist is available here.

DOL Issues Proposed Rule to Amend the Investment Duties Regulation

The DOL recently issued a proposed rule to amend the “investment duties” regulation at found at 29 CFR 2550.404a-1 (the “Regulation”). The proposed rule would provide investment guidance to ERISA plan fiduciaries in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) investing. ERISA requires plan fiduciaries to act “solely” in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries and for the “exclusive purpose” of providing benefits and paying reasonable administrative expenses and prudently selecting investments for the plan. In the past, the DOL has periodically issued guidance addressing fiduciary duties under ERISA with respect to ESG-based investment decisions, including Interpretive Bulletin 94-1, which described a “tie-breaker standard,” whereby ESG considerations could be the deciding factor when competing investments served the plan’s economic interests equally. Later Interpretive Bulletins emphasized that it would be a violation of ERISA to accept reduced returns in favor of ESG goals, but that in certain cases,… Continue Reading

Puerto Rico Extends the Deadline for Special Disaster Distributions

The Puerto Rico Treasury Department (“Puerto Rico Treasury”) recently issued Internal Revenue Circular Letter (“CC RI”) 20-29 extending the period to make “Special Disaster Distributions” from qualified retirement plans and IRAs from June 30, 2020 to December 31, 2020. See our prior blog post here for details regarding what distributions qualify as Special Disaster Distributions. Other provisions of previously issued CC RI 20-09 (which provides rules applicable to distributions), CC RI 20-23 (which amends CC RI 20-09 to add additional eligible expenses), and CC RI 20-24 (which removes the requirement of signing before a notary public) continue in force. A copy of CC RI 20-29 can be found here.

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