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Substantial Changes to Norwegian Defined Contribution Plans Effective January 1, 2021

As reported by the U.S. Social Security Administration (the “SSA”), Norway finalized certain legal and operational changes to employer defined contribution pension plans to be effective January 1, 2021, which include: (i) eliminating vesting periods for employer contributions; (ii) permitting employees to select pension providers other than the ones chosen by their employers for administration of the employee’s defined contribution account balances; and (iii) unless an employee opts out, automatically transferring all of an employee’s account balances under his or her prior employer defined contribution plans into the employee’s account under his or her current employer’s defined contribution plan. Information on these changes is available on the SSA’s website here.

December 31st Deadline to Amend Deferred Compensation Plans

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “TCJA”) significantly amended Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) by expanding the definition of a “covered employee” to also include an employee who was formerly a “covered employee” of the publicly traded corporation (i.e., the “once a covered employee, always a covered employee” rule). Under this expanded rule, anyone who was a covered employee of the publicly traded corporation (or any predecessor) for any taxable year beginning on or after January 1, 2017, will continue to be a covered employee for taxable years beginning in 2018 and later, even after the employee’s separation from service. This change potentially impacts the availability of benefit payments under certain nonqualified deferred compensation plans which provide that payments may be delayed if the company’s deduction would not be permitted under Code Section 162(m). The application of this “once-in, always-in rule” could thus result in a… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Additional Guidance on Certain Coronavirus-Related Tax Credits

In a new series of FAQs, the IRS issued additional guidance on tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”). The first set of FAQs explains what amounts can be counted as qualified family leave wages for purposes of the tax credit granted for such amounts. The second set of FAQs explains how to determine the amount of qualified health plan expenses for purposes of the tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages, including how health plan expenses may be calculated for self-funded and fully insured plans, as well as how to calculate health plan expenses when an employer offers more than one health plan or other health-related benefits, such as health flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. Links to the guidance are below, and more detailed information on the… Continue Reading

Inaccurate Leave of Absence Provisions May Lead to Stop Loss Carrier Denial of Claims

For employees on a leave of absence (“LOA”) or a furlough, employers often extend group health plan coverage during the LOA or furlough for a prescribed time period. With regard to group health plans that are considered to be “self-insured,” generally, the employer’s reinsurer, or stop loss carrier, is only required to cover claims (above the policy’s self-insured retention level) incurred for a covered person based on the written terms of the plan. In other words, the policy underwrites the coverage that is provided under the plan document. If extended coverage during a LOA or furlough is not expressly set out in the plan document, a stop loss carrier could seek to deny claims incurred during that period. It is thus recommended that employers with self-insured plans review their health plan documents to ensure consistency with administrative practices regarding coverage during LOAs and furloughs and coordinate as necessary with the… Continue Reading

Controlled Group Companies are Potentially Liable if a Dissolving Company Does Not Terminate its ERISA Plans and is Not Replaced by a New Plan Sponsor

In Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. 50509 Marine LLC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that “where the sponsor of an ERISA plan dissolves under state law but continues to authorize payments to beneficiaries and is not supplanted as the plan’s sponsor by another entity, it remains the constructive sponsor such that other members of its controlled group may be held liable for the plan’s termination liabilities.”  In this case, Liberty Lightening Co. Inc. (“Liberty”) sponsored and administered a pension plan under ERISA (the “Pension Plan”).  When Liberty went bankrupt and was dissolved under state law in 1992, Liberty continued to be the de facto sponsor of the Pension Plan, and the Pension Plan continued to operate.  In 2012, the Pension Plan was formally terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (the “PBGC”) due to the Pension Plan’s pending insolvency.  Six years later, the… Continue Reading

Is it Time for an Investment Committee Tune-up?

Companies sponsoring a 401(k) plan to help their employees save for retirement often form an investment committee to help select plan investments without realizing the duties that the committee assumes.  To help prevent investment committee members from unintentionally breaching their fiduciary duties, companies periodically review their investment committee compliance and should keep complete records of appointments, policies, and procedures.  The following investment committee checklist can be a starting point for this review: Review the underlying plan document to determine who it lists as the “named fiduciary”.  Most plan documents provided by third party administrators list the “plan sponsor” as the named fiduciary, which means the board of directors is the governing body responsible for acting as a fiduciary, absent a delegation of such fiduciary responsibility by the board of directors to a committee.  If your plan lists the “plan sponsor” as the named fiduciary and you have a committee selecting… Continue Reading

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits in the Time of COVID – IRS Provides an Overview on Treatment of Unused Amounts and Changes to Elections

Prior to the pandemic, many employees used qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as receiving mass transit passes or paying for on-site parking on a pre-tax basis, to help defray the costs of getting to the office. As a result of the pandemic, many workers are working from home, with no need to pay for on-site parking or reap the benefit of employer-provided mass transit passes. The pandemic has also caused some employees to change their mode of transportation, with many deciding to forgo the use of mass transit to drive their own vehicles to work. A recent IRS information letter outlined some options available to employees whose use of qualified transportation has changed throughout the course of the pandemic. Under the example in the information letter, an employee was no longer using mass transit, and so, no longer needed to use compensation deductions to pay for mass transit passes. Instead,… Continue Reading

Claim Alleging Unauthorized Payroll Deductions for Tobacco Surcharge Preempted by ERISA

In the recent case of Mebane v. GKN Driveline N. Am., Inc., No. 1:18-CV-00892 (M.D.N.C. Nov. 05, 2020), the federal district court held that a claim brought under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”) is preempted by ERISA. The employee-plaintiffs in this case alleged their employer violated the NCWHA by deducting from their paychecks, without express authorization, a monetary penalty for those employees who participate in the employer’s group health plan and use tobacco products (i.e., a so-called “tobacco surcharge”). The defendant-employer filed a motion to dismiss this claim for unauthorized payroll deductions as being preempted by ERISA. The court agreed and dismissed the employees’ claim, ruling that it was preempted by ERISA. The court’s opinion is available here.

Updated Self-Compliance Tool for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity

The DOL released an updated tool to help employer-sponsored group health plans comply with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MHPAEA”). In general, the MHPAEA requires that financial requirements under a group health plan (such as copays) and treatment limitations (such as prior authorization) on mental health and substance use disorder benefits be comparable to, and applied no more stringently than, those that apply to medical and surgical benefits under the plan. The DOL last updated the tool in 2018. This updated version includes FAQs issued in 2019, additional compliance examples, best practices for establishing an internal compliance plan, and examples of plan provisions that may indicate a potential MHPAEA violation. In particular, the concept of the “internal compliance plan” is new, and although not required under the MHPAEA, the DOL’s goal for the internal compliance plan was to show how an internal compliance strategy can assist… Continue Reading

Regulations Provide for More Cost Transparency in Health Coverage

The federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) have jointly issued final regulations that are intended to provide for more transparency in health coverage (the “Regulations”). The Regulations have important implications for employer sponsors of certain group health plans (“Plans”) and health insurers. The Regulations do not apply to health plans that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act, health reimbursement arrangements, certain other account-based group health plans, or short-term limited duration insurance. The Regulations require two key forms of disclosures (collectively, the “Disclosures”) in order to provide for this improved transparency: Self-Service Disclosure. First, the Regulations require Plans and insurers in the individual and group markets to disclose certain cost-sharing information upon request to a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative), including (a) an estimate of the individual’s cost-sharing liability for covered items or services furnished by a… Continue Reading

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