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DOL Wins ERISA Appeal Authorizing its DOL Cybersecurity Subpoena

A recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case reminds plan sponsors and service providers that ERISA grants the DOL broad authority to seek plan-related information reasonably relevant to an investigation from both fiduciaries and non-fiduciaries. Plan cybersecurity practices have been a recent focus of the DOL and resulted in its 2021 issuance of cybersecurity best practices for plan sponsors, fiduciaries, recordkeepers, and plan participants, which are available here.  In this case, the court ruled in favor of the DOL in connection with the DOL’s 2019 investigation into the processing of unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches in the ERISA plan accounts serviced by Alight Solutions LLC (“Alight”). The DOL indicated that Alight failed to report, disclose, and restore the distributions. Alight denied any knowledge of the breaches. Alight argued that the subpoena fell outside of the DOL’s authority because the DOL does not have the authority under… Continue Reading

IRS Introduces Pre-Examination Compliance Pilot Program

Starting this month, when the IRS selects a tax-qualified retirement plan for examination, it will notify the plan sponsor by letter and provide the sponsor a 90-day window to review the plan document and operations for compliance with all plan qualification requirements.   If the sponsor’s review reveals any operational or documentary failures that would otherwise qualify for self-correction under the IRS’s Employee Plan Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”), the sponsor will have the opportunity to self-correct those mistakes. If the plan sponsor’s review reveals any operational or documentary failures that, absent the examination, would require correction under the voluntary correction program (“VCP”) component of EPCRS, the sponsor can request a closing agreement, and the IRS will use the VCP fee structure to determine the sanction amount the sponsor will pay under the closing agreement.  The sponsor must notify the IRS of the errors discovered and the correction within the 90-day window. The… Continue Reading

New Plan Audit Standards Shift Burdens to Plan Fiduciaries

In an effort to address shortcomings in auditing procedures and reporting raised by the DOL, in July 2019, the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued a revised Statement on Auditing Standards No. 136 entitled, “Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA” (“SAS 136”). SAS 136 applies to plan financial statement periods ending on or after December 15, 2021. The updated audit standards imposed by SAS 136 add new audit procedures and significantly shift the burden for producing many plan-related documents to the plan sponsor. The new requirements will make it essential for plan sponsors to be able to produce quality, error-free records that demonstrate compliance in areas like compensation, deferrals, distributions, and vendors’ fees. Even before these new standards went into effect, it was often difficult for plan sponsors to produce such documentation, particularly when it… Continue Reading

Recent IRS Snapshot Regarding Deemed Distributions for Participant Loans Reminds Employers of Risk of Plan Loan Errors

The IRS recently released an Issue Snapshot (the “Snapshot”) focusing on participant loans from retirement plans and when certain compliance errors could trigger deemed distributions with respect to such loans. Specifically, the Snapshot lists the following requirements, which if not satisfied, will cause a participant loan to be treated as a deemed distribution: Enforceable agreement requirement, which generally requires a participant loan to be a legally enforceable agreement (which may include more than one document) and the terms of the agreement demonstrate compliance with the applicable requirements of the Code. Maximum loan amount limit requirement, which generally limits the maximum amount of a participant loan to the amount specified under the Code. The Snapshot also noted the CARES Act allowed modifications to the loan limit for certain loans to “qualified individuals.” Repayment period requirement, which generally requires the repayment period of a loan be limited to five years, unless the loan… Continue Reading

Federal Agencies Issue Proposed Revisions to Form 5500 Return/Report

The DOL, PBGC, and IRS (the “Agencies”) recently issued a Notice of Proposed Revision (the “Notice”) to update the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report filed for employee pension and welfare benefit plans. The DOL simultaneously issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the revisions proposed in the Notice. These proposed revisions primarily relate to certain statutory amendments to ERISA and the Code enacted as part of the SECURE Act and include other changes intended to improve Form 5500 reporting. Specifically, the Notice describes the following proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report:  Consolidation of the Form 5500 reporting requirement for defined contribution retirement plan groups by (i) adding a new type of direct filing entity called a “defined contribution group” reporting arrangement, and (ii) establishing a new reporting schedule for such arrangement; Modifications to reflect pooled employer plans as a type of multiple employer pension plan (“MEP”) and implement… Continue Reading

Benefit Compliance Tip: Be Sure to Sign on the Dotted Line

Benefit plan administration can be complicated and challenging, but sometimes it is not the complex issues that cause the biggest problems; it’s the simplest, such as remembering to ensure plan documents and amendments are actually signed. Far too often, when new plans or plan amendments are adopted, the board or a plan committee will adopt resolutions approving the new plan or amendment, but the actual documents are never signed. Unfortunately, this area of non-compliance may go unnoticed until an IRS or DOL audit or the sale of the plan sponsor, where signed documents are requested but the plan sponsor cannot find them. To avoid being caught with unsigned plan documents, plans sponsors should: Adopt procedures so that immediately after new plans or amendments are adopted, the documents are signed and dated by an authorized signer; After documents are signed, maintain the executed documents in an easy to find location, and… Continue Reading

IRS Updates Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Audit Technique Guide

The IRS recently updated its Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Audit Technique Guide (the “Updated Guide”), which replaces the previous version published in June 2015. The Updated Guide provides more detailed guidance on the legal standards applicable to deferred compensation arrangements, including the addition of specific citations to relevant regulations and revenue rulings. Notably, the Updated Guide also includes significantly expanded discussions about Code Section 409A and its application to deferred compensation arrangements. Code Section 409A, and other regulations impacting deferred compensation, are very complicated and can carry substantial penalties and taxes for noncompliance. As Congress and the Biden Administration look for additional sources of funding for their initiatives, heightened IRS audit activity may be on the horizon. The Updated Guide is a good reminder to employers that they should periodically review their nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements, not only for documentary compliance but operational compliance as well. The Updated Guide is available… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Additional Guidance Regarding COBRA Premium Subsidy

As we previously reported here, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Employers will receive a tax credit for the cost of COBRA premiums for April 1 to September 30, 2021. The IRS recently issued FAQs addressing many issues related to the subsidy, including: (i) subsidy eligibility, (ii) what qualifies as a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, (iii) the type of coverage eligible for the subsidy, (iv) when the subsidy period begins and ends, (v) the extended election period, (vi) coordination with the extended deadlines due to the COVID national emergency (?Ç£Outbreak Period Extensions?Ç¥), (vii) payments to insurers, (viii) application to state continuation coverage, and (ix) calculation and claiming of the subsidy tax credit. One of… Continue Reading

Voluntary Correction Program Applications ?Çô Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (?Ç£VCP?Ç¥) submissions, which is available here. The errors listed generally relate to issues associated with the submission of files in the correct PDF format, failing to pay the correct user fee, or the incorrect submission of the Form 8950. Filing a VCP application can be a useful method for plan sponsors to correct operational issues that have spanned numerous years or?á other issues for which self-correction is unavailable. Errors in the submission can delay resolution of the application or, in some cases, cause a rejection of the application. In addition to the common errors outlined by the IRS, plan sponsors should also use care to avoid the following additional common issues: Failure to Submit a Comprehensive Filing ?Çô If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… Continue Reading

February Deadline to Have Mental Health Parity Documentation in Place

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) requires an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (?Ç£NQTLs?Ç¥) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits to perform and document a comparative analysis of the design and application of NQTLs. For example, a plan that imposes prior authorization requirements on any mental health or substance use disorder benefits would need to document: (i) all the benefits that require prior authorization; (ii) the factors used to determine which benefits were subject to prior authorization, such as excessive utilization or high variability in cost per episode of care, and whether any factors were given more weight than others and why; (iii) the sources used to define the factors, such as internal claims analysis or national accreditation standards; and (iv) that the process, strategies, and evidentiary standards used in applying prior authorization requirements are comparable and no more stringently applied to mental… Continue Reading

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