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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

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

Sixth Circuit Case Excludes Voluntary Retirement Contributions from a Debtor’s Disposable Income

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (the “Sixth Circuit”), whose jurisdiction includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, recently held that, under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor’s pre-petition and certain post-petition voluntary retirement contributions are excludable from the debtor’s disposable income, which is used to satisfy a debtor’s obligations to its unsecured creditors. In Davis, a debtor filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code and sought to satisfy her unsecured debts by paying all of her “projected disposable income” to her unsecured creditors. The debtor sought to exclude her voluntary 401(k) contributions from her projected disposable income, but the bankruptcy court upheld an amended bankruptcy plan that included such contributions in her disposable income. The debtor appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which held that, because the debtor’s post-petition monthly 401(k) contributions were regularly withheld from the debtor’s wages prior to the bankruptcy,… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Holds that Offering Single Stock Investments in a 401(k) Plan is Not Per-Se Imprudent

Following a spinoff, a 401(k) plan continued to offer the employer stock fund of the predecessor parent company as an investment alternative, but closed it to new investments. After the share price fell by approximately 50%, the participants brought a lawsuit against the plan fiduciaries claiming, among other things, that the fiduciary breached its duty to diversify under ERISA Section 404(a)(1)(C) by retaining the stock fund as an investment alternative. The District Court dismissed the case and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the dismissal. The Fifth Circuit held that although the stock of the former parent was not statutorily exempt from ERISA’s diversification because it was no longer a “qualifying employer security”, there was no obligation for the plan fiduciaries to force plan participants to divest from the funds. The court explained that ERISA contains no per se prohibition on individual account plans offering single-stock… Continue Reading

Use Care When Implementing CARES Act Retirement Plan Distributions – State Law and Benefit Offset Concerns

As we have previously reported on our blog here and here, the CARES Act provided relief to participants in retirement plans by allowing employers to amend their retirement plans to include certain coronavirus-related distributions and to permit increased loan amounts for certain qualified individuals. Many employers have agreed to adopt these changes, and under federal law, the treatment of these distributions is clear. But there are other issues that employers and employees should consider, including: The coronavirus-related distributions could be subject to taxation under state law, even if the employee later repays the distribution to the plan; and If employees are receiving unemployment and/or disability benefits, the coronavirus-related distributions may reduce or offset these benefits. However, the enhanced loans would not be subject to taxation and may not offset unemployment and disability benefits, which may make the enhanced loan a better option for employees who anticipate paying back the distribution.… Continue Reading

IRS Releases FAQs on Retirement Plan Relief Under the CARES Act

The IRS recently published guidance in the form of FAQs related to the implementation of retirement plan relief available under the CARES Act. While the guidance does not resolve all of the open issues, it does provide some helpful clarifications and insight into what we may expect from future guidance. Specifically, the guidance confirms that the CARES Act provisions allowing for coronavirus-related distributions (“CRDs”) and loan relief are permissible, not required. Furthermore, the guidance points out that even if a 401(k) plan decides not to allow CRDs, if an individual meets the requirements to be a “qualified individual,” he or she may be able to treat other plan distributions as a CRD for federal tax purposes. Individuals need to consult with their personal tax advisors on these matters. Finally, alluding to what we may expect from future guidance, the CARES Act FAQs referred back to IRS Notice 2005-92 (issued on… Continue Reading

Retirement Benefit Expenses Covered under the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”) under the CARES Act aims to assist small businesses affected by COVID-19 by covering certain operating expenses as an incentive to retain employees during the crisis. Expenses, such as “payroll costs,” are used in the calculation of the amount of the available loan and in the amount that may be forgiven under the program. Notably, the PPP does not consider an individual’s compensation in excess of $100,000 annualized, prorated for the covered period, to be covered as a payroll cost. The “payment of any retirement benefit[s]” are among the payroll costs that are included. However, at this time, it not entirely clear what is intended to be included in the “payment of any retirement benefit.” No formal guidance has been issued by the IRS or Treasury, and initial guidance issued by the U.S. Small Business Administration does not shed much light on this question.… Continue Reading

COVID-19 EMPLOYEE BENEFIT AND EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In light of the recent economic developments stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are evaluating their employee benefit plans and how employee and employer costs will be impacted. The following summary provides a list of questions we have been receiving from clients over the past week, along with action items to help employers address these issues. Health and Welfare Plans and Fringe Benefits Should benefits coverage continue while an employee is on an unpaid furlough? If so, how would the employee pay the employee’s portion of the premium? Could the employee elect to drop coverage due to the reduction in hours of active service? Could the employer pay for coverage for some or all of its furloughed employees? Continued eligibility for benefits will depend on whether the employer treats the furlough as a termination of employment or as an unpaid leave of absence. The terms of the plan, including… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Affirms QDRO Issued After Participant’s Death

A recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit highlights that a qualified domestic relations order (“QDRO”) can be valid and enforceable even if it is issued after a participant’s death. In Miletello v. RMR Mechanical, Inc., the Fifth Circuit affirmed an award to the former spouse of a deceased 401(k) plan participant, even though (i) the QDRO in favor of the former spouse was not entered into until over a year after the participant’s death, and (ii) the participant was married to a new spouse at the time of his death. Importantly, a divorce settlement executed by the former spouse and the decedent before his death explicitly provided for the award from the 401(k) plan and contemplated that the former spouse would obtain a QDRO to receive the 401(k) plan assets. A copy of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion is available here.

IRS Permits Mid-Year Changes to Safe Harbor 401(k) Plans

In Notice 2016-16, the IRS announced that certain mid-year changes to a safe harbor retirement plan or to its safe harbor notice will not violate applicable safe harbor rules so long as new participant notice and election-change conditions are satisfied and the mid-year change is not one of several changes specifically prohibited in the Notice. Generally, safe harbor retirement plans must be effective for an entire 12-month plan year unless a specific exception applies, such as for a short initial or final plan year, among others. The Notice now permits safe harbor retirement plans to make certain mid-year plan design changes. If the change involves an item that is required to be included in the plan’s annual safe harbor notice, an updated safe harbor notice that describes the change must be provided to plan participants either (i) within a reasonable period of time prior to the effective date of the… Continue Reading

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