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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.

IRS Provides Pandemic Relief to Safe Harbor Plans

Notice 2020-52 (the “Notice”) provides temporary relief allowing sponsors of “safe harbor” 401(k) and 403(b) plans to amend their plans mid-plan year to suspend or reduce safe harbor contributions through the end of the plan year regardless of whether the employer (i) is suffering an economic loss, or (ii) included a statement in its annual safe harbor notice that safe harbor contributions could be reduced or suspended during the plan year. Plans that adopt an amendment to reduce or suspend safe harbor non-elective contributions in accordance with this Notice will not be treated as failing to satisfy the 30 day notice requirement in the regulations, provided that a supplemental notice is provided to the eligible employees no later than August 31, 2020, and the plan amendment that reduces or suspends the non-elective contributions is adopted no later than the effective date of the reduction or suspension. Plans that adopt an… Continue Reading

The New DOL Fiduciary Rule – A Return to the Old with a New Proposed Prohibited Transaction Exemption

On June 29, 2020, the DOL issued its much anticipated new “fiduciary rule” under ERISA. The new rule is meant to replace the DOL’s previous fiduciary rule (and related exemptions) which went into effect in 2016 but was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2018. The new fiduciary rule is composed of two parts: (i) a final regulation which reaffirms and reinstates the five-part test for determining whether a person renders “investment advice” for purposes of ERISA (the “Reinstated Rule”), and (ii) a new prohibited transaction class exemption for investment advice fiduciaries based on the “impartial conduct standards” previously adopted by the DOL (the “Proposed Exemption”). Reinstated Rule The new rule amends the Code of Federal Regulations to reinstate the prior 1975 regulation which contained the five-part test for determining whether a financial institution or investment professional is a fiduciary for rendering “investment advice.”… Continue Reading

IRS Proposed Regulations Address the Elimination of the Deduction for Certain Qualified Transportation Fringe Expenses

On June 23, 2020, the IRS released proposed regulations regarding the deduction of certain employer-provided transportation and commuting benefits to reflect changes made to Section 274 of the Internal Revenue Code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “TCJA”). The TCJA eliminated deductions by employers for qualified transportation fringe (“QTF”) expenses for amounts paid or incurred in the taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Key issues addressed in the proposed regulations include: (i) the amount of parking expenses that is not deductible when an employer owns or leases the parking facility; (ii) the amount of QTF expenses that is not deductible when an employer pays a third party to provide QTF benefits; (iii) the amount of certain expenses or reimbursements relating to transportation between an employee’s residence and place of employment that is not deductible; and (iv) the application of exceptions that may allow certain QTF expenses to… Continue Reading

IRS Extends Deadline to Roll Over Waived RMD Distributions / Provides Model Amendment

The IRS issued Notice 2020-51 which provides additional guidance and relief relating to the required minimum distribution (“RMD”) waiver provisions in Section 2203 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). The CARES Act waived the requirement to make RMDs in 2020. Distributed amounts that—but for the CARES Act waiver—would have been RMDs are instead treated as eligible rollover distributions. Generally, the deadline to roll over an eligible rollover distribution into an IRA or another qualified plan is 60 days from the distribution date. However, for those eligible rollover distributions made in 2020 that otherwise would have been RMDs and for which the 60-day rollover period expires before August 31, 2020, the IRS extended the rollover deadline to August 31, 2020. Additionally, Notice 2020-51 includes a Q&A relating to the waiver of RMDs in 2020 and a model amendment that plan sponsors can adopt to provide… Continue Reading

Additional Federal Guidance Regarding COVID-19 and Telehealth Coverage: Some Employer Take-Aways

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services (the “Departments”) recently issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and COVID-19. A number of these FAQs address a group health plan’s required coverage of COVID-19 tests, including which tests must be covered, related facility fees, reimbursement rates, and balance billing to patients. Employers should ensure that the third party administrators of their group health plans have incorporated this guidance for plan administration purposes. In addition, some of the other FAQs may be of interest to employers. For example, the FAQs provide that, if a group health plan reverses the increased coverage of COVID-19 or telehealth after the COVID-19 public health emergency period is over, the Departments will consider the plan to have satisfied the requirement to provide advance notice of changes to the Summary of Benefits… Continue Reading

Have You Notified Participants of Extended Deadlines?

As noted in our prior post here, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice requiring all employee health and welfare benefit plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (or other announced date) when determining the deadline to request HIPAA special enrollment, elect COBRA coverage, make a COBRA premium payment, notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of a disability, file a benefit claim or appeal, or request an external review of a benefit claim denial. Although the notice did not address whether plan participants needed to be notified of these extended deadlines, plan administrators should be aware that they likely have a fiduciary duty to accurately convey this information to participants. For example, a COBRA election notice that states a deadline to elect or make premium payments without mentioning… Continue Reading

Severance Arrangements and Code Section 409A

We recently posted an item that discussed when a severance policy would be subject to ERISA and the potential benefits of the policy being subject to ERISA (that post is available here). Another potential issue employers should consider is whether their severance arrangements are subject to Code Section 409A, which applies to certain deferred compensation arrangements. If a severance arrangement is subject to Code Section 409A, it must comply with Code Section 409A’s various documentary and operational requirements to avoid the additional 20% tax and underpayment penalty that may be assessed for any compliance failures. Severance arrangements can be drafted to be exempt from Code Section 409A, such as under its short-term deferral and separation pay exceptions. If the severance arrangement is subject to Code Section 409A, some of the potential issues employers should consider include, among others: Any changes to the time or form of payments must comply with… Continue Reading

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