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ERISA Lawsuit Alleging Worker Misclassification Is A Reminder to Employers to Monitor Their Employee Classifications

A plaintiff recently filed suit against Yum! Brands, Inc. (“Yum”), Taco Bell Corp. (“Taco Bell,” together with Yum referred to herein as, the “Employers”), and various other defendants under ERISA over the alleged misclassification of his employment status. The complaint states that common law employees were eligible to participate in certain retirement plans maintained by the Employers (collectively, the “Plans”) pursuant to the Plans’ governing documents. The plaintiff alleges he met the common law test for employee status but was classified as an independent contractor, instead of an employee, during his 25 years of employment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that during the relevant employment periods, the Employers controlled the work he performed and the manner and means by which he performed his work, such as by directing the specific order and sequence of his work and requiring him to attend employee-only events and meetings. The plaintiff further alleges that other… 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

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

Reminder: Employer Obligations Regarding Employee Life Insurance Coverage

In our prior blog post here, we discussed the case of Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., which highlighted the importance of an employer?ÇÖs understanding of how its group term life insurance coverage is impacted by changes in employment status, such as termination of employment, retirement, or a leave of absence. This understanding is necessary for the employer to correctly communicate to employees when life insurance coverage will end, when evidence of insurability will be required, and the requirements necessary to convert coverage. In Anastos, the employer drafted its retiree benefit plan to state that eligible retirees could continue life insurance and that, in most cases, coverage would be guaranteed with no medical certification required. When a retiree attempted to obtain this coverage, the employer admitted that its plan was misleading and that it could not obtain underwriting to provide that kind of life insurance continuation benefit. The retiree sued, and… Continue Reading

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

Ordinary Employee Benefits Issues That Can Cause Extraordinary Problems in M&A Deals

Employee benefits rarely drive corporate transactions, but if the benefits of a target company are not reviewed carefully, they can sometimes derail the transaction.  Even some of the most routine facets of benefit plan administration can result in significant potential financial exposure (e.g., additional employer contributions, taxes, penalties, and fees as well as fees associated with the preparation and filing of IRS and DOL correction program applications) that could negatively affect the overall value of the target company. By identifying issues early in the transaction, the seller can prevent costly purchase price reductions and identify issues that need correction, while the buyer can avoid overpaying for a target and ensure that representation and warranty insurance will be available to cover potential claims. Some of those routine compliance issues include, but are not limited to, the following: Failing to timely file an annual Form 5500.  The DOL can assess a penalty… Continue Reading

IRS Announces 2021 Qualified Retirement Plan Limits

The IRS recently announced cost-of-living adjustments for 2021. Below is a list of some of the key annual limits that will apply to qualified retirement plans in 2021: Compensation limit used in calculating a participant?ÇÖs benefit accruals: increased to $290,000. Elective deferrals to 401(k) and 403(b) plans: remains unchanged at $19,500. Annual additions to a defined contribution plan: increased to $58,000. Catch-up contributions for employees aged 50 and over to 401(k) and 403(b) plans: remains unchanged at $6,500. Annual benefit limit for a defined benefit plan: remains unchanged at $230,000. Compensation dollar limit for defining a ?Ç£key employee?Ç¥ in a top heavy plan: remains unchanged at $185,000. Compensation dollar limit for defining a ?Ç£highly compensated employee?Ç¥: remains unchanged at $130,000. View the full list of 2021 plan limits in Notice 2020-79 here.

Delegating Fiduciary Duties Under ERISA Plans

The recent decision in Hampton v. National Union by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois highlights the importance of following the provisions in ERISA plan documents for delegating fiduciary duties to entities acting as plan fiduciaries, such as third-party service providers and insurers. Following the death of her husband, who was an employee of The Boeing Company (?Ç£Boeing?Ç¥), the plaintiff sought to recover accidental death and dismemberment benefits under insurance policies sponsored by Boeing, for which she was the sole designated beneficiary. After National Union, which underwrote and co-administered the policies with AIG Claims, Inc., denied the plaintiff?ÇÖs initial benefits claim, as well as her appeal of such denial, the plaintiff brought suit under ERISA. The plaintiff argued that the court should apply a de novo standard of review (i.e., no deference given to the plan fiduciary?ÇÖs prior decisions) because National Union did not have discretionary… Continue Reading

DOL Brief Supports ERISA Claims for Violation of Mental Health Parity Requirements

The U.S. Secretary of Labor (the ?Ç£Secretary?Ç¥) recently filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit arguing that, where a beneficiary alleged that he was denied covered mental health benefits because his employer?ÇÖs group health plan applied an exclusion in violation of ERISA?ÇÖs mental health parity requirements, he is authorized to bring a claim for those benefits under ERISA. ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B) allows a beneficiary to bring a civil action to ?Ç£recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.?Ç¥ The amicus brief was filed in the case of N.R. v. Raytheon Co., in which a beneficiary of the company?ÇÖs self-funded health plan was denied coverage for speech therapy treatment under the terms of… Continue Reading

It?ÇÖs All Part of the Plan ?Çô Consistency is Key to Treating Multiple Documents as One Plan

Plan sponsors of severance plans that set forth the terms of one severance plan in multiple plan documents should consider combining those documents into one document or carefully reviewing each plan document to ensure there are no inconsistencies (including relating to eligibility, effective dates, and benefits) and that each document not only references the other documents but is incorporated into the other documents by reference. Otherwise, the plan sponsor may risk one of the documents being deemed a pay practice exempt from ERISA, subjecting the plan sponsor to state law claims in any state where employees are covered. This risk was recently highlighted in Caggiano v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., where former employees (?Ç£Plaintiffs?Ç¥) of Teva Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (?Ç£Defendant?Ç¥) brought two state law causes of action against Defendant based on the denial of separation pay benefits under Defendant?ÇÖs severance plan, which was comprised of a Separation Benefits Plan (?Ç£SBP?Ç¥), a… Continue Reading

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