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As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)

The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading

DOL Rules that Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations with Plan?ÇÖs Insurer may have to be Disclosed

The DOL recently issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 addressing whether the claims procedure regulations under ERISA require plan fiduciaries to provide, upon request, the audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between a claimant and a representative of the plan?ÇÖs insurer relating to an adverse benefit determination. The claims regulations under ERISA provide that a document, record, or other information is relevant to a claim for benefits, and therefore must be provided to a claimant upon request, if it (i) ?Ç£was submitted, considered, or generated in the course of making the benefit determination, without regard to whether such document, record, or other information was relied upon in making the benefit determination?Ç¥ or (ii) ?Ç£demonstrates compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards.?Ç¥ The DOL concluded that a recording or transcript of a conversation between a claimant and a plan?ÇÖs insurer would not be excluded from the ERISA disclosure requirements on the… Continue Reading

Guidance on Benefit Plan Cybersecurity Best Practices

Plan participants now enroll, change elections, review benefits, apply for plan loans and hardship distributions, and access account information through websites and cellphone apps. As electronic access to plan information has increased, so has the interest of hackers in obtaining the wealth of information stored electronically. Recently, the DOL?ÇÖs Employee Benefits Security Administration (the ?Ç£EBSA?Ç¥) issued the following cybersecurity guidance documents to help plan sponsors comply with their duties to protect plan information: Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices: These tips are intended to help plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries meet their duties under ERISA to prudently select and monitor service providers. They include a list of questions to ask and considerations to make when evaluating potential service providers. Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: This guidance provides a list of 12 best practices intended to help plan fiduciaries mitigate cybersecurity risks and make prudent decisions when selecting… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Decision is a Reminder to Employers on Structuring Severance Plans

Last week?ÇÖs decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Atkins v. CB&I, LLC is a reminder that employers may prefer to structure bonus and severance programs so as to be covered by ERISA and thus avoid being subject to unfavorable state laws. In Atkins, five employees brought suit in Louisiana state court claiming their employer?ÇÖs project incentive bonus plan?Çöwhich pays a single bonus payment to employees who are laid off or complete their roles in a specific project?Çöconstituted an illegal wage forfeiture agreement under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act. Each of the employees had quit and consequently forfeited their bonuses under the plan?ÇÖs terms. The employer removed the suit to federal district court claiming the bonus plan was a severance plan subject to ERISA and thus ERISA, as controlling federal law, preempted the employees?ÇÖ state law claims. The district court agreed. The Fifth Circuit reversed… Continue Reading

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.?á This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.?á As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.

Plan Record Retention Considerations in Corporate Transactions

As we?ÇÖve previously reported here, there are a number of record retention requirements applicable to employee benefit plans. Plan sponsors should be mindful of the impact and application of these requirements in the context of corporate mergers and acquisitions, especially if assets of the target?ÇÖs retirement plan are to be merged into the buyer?ÇÖs plan. When acquiring a company that sponsors (or has sponsored) its own retirement plan, plan sponsors should consider: Protected Benefits. Though the buyer?ÇÖs plan may be amended to protect certain benefits under the target?ÇÖs plan, as required by the Internal Revenue Code, in many cases the plan sponsor will need to refer to the target?ÇÖs actual plan document to fully understand the specifics of the protected benefits. Missing Participants. The DOL recently issued a memorandum outlining best practices for pension plans to avoid and resolve missing participant issues (we previously discussed this issue here). Included in… Continue Reading

Puerto Rico to Allow Rollovers from the Government Plan for Puerto Rico Employees to Qualified Retirement Plans

On January 20, 2021, the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury released Administrative Determination No. 21-01 (?Ç£AD 21-01?Ç¥), allowing for direct and indirect rollovers of lump-sum distributions from the defined contribution government plan for Puerto Rico employees to a plan that is qualified under Section 1081.01(a) of the Puerto Rico Internal Revenue Code of 2011, as amended (the ?Ç£Code?Ç¥), maintained by a private-sector employer. Such rollovers would be considered exempt transactions and would not be subject to income tax withholding under Section 1081.01(b) of the Code. The provisions of AD 21-01 are effective immediately. AD 21-01 is available here.

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