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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

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

Nothing in Life is Free ?Çô ERISA Expense Account Considerations

Many 401(k) plans contain spending accounts funded by revenue-sharing generated by a plan?ÇÖs mutual fund holdings. These accounts, often referred to as ERISA expense accounts, revenue-sharing accounts, or plan expense reimbursement accounts, can cause complications for plans if not administered properly. These revenue-sharing accounts can accumulate quickly, and in large plans, can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, plan sponsors often do not know that the accounts are accumulating, and when they find them, may think they have just discovered ?Ç£free money.?Ç¥ But nothing in life is free, and missteps with the use of these funds could result in participant claims. Accordingly, before utilizing these funds, plan sponsors should use care and consider the following questions: Are the funds being held in the trust??áDOL Advisory Opinion 2013-03A (which is available here) noted that revenue sharing payments that were being received by the third party administrator prior… Continue Reading

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

After February 28, 2021, the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines may be over. The government?ÇÖs authority for suspending these deadlines is limited by statute to a period of one year. It is unclear whether the one-year limit applies on the individual level (i.e., each person gets up to a year disregarded if the national emergency is ongoing) or applies as a limit on the outbreak period itself (i.e., deadlines for all persons would resume being counted as of March 1, 2021). The DOL/IRS have not yet issued guidance on this question. Employers may want to contact their service providers to see how they intend to administer, and communicate to participants, the end of the suspension of deadlines.

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

We will begin providing periodic updates on upcoming benefit compliance and/or plan amendment deadlines so that you can add them to your to-do list. Each deadline will have links to our prior blog posts that provide more detailed information about that subject.?á As of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (?Ç£NQTLs?Ç¥) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits must make available to federal agencies, upon request, a comparative analysis of the design and application of NQTLs, including the specific findings and conclusions reached by the plan and any results of the comparative analysis that indicate the plan is or is not in compliance. For more information, please read our blog post here.

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

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 (?Ç£MHPAEA?Ç¥). 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 ?Ç£internal compliance plan?Ç¥ is new, and although not required under the MHPAEA, the DOL?ÇÖs goal for the internal compliance plan was to show how an internal compliance strategy can assist… Continue Reading

March 31st Deadline to Adopt Compliant 403(b) Plan

Tax-exempt organizations that sponsor individually-designed 403(b) plans that have not received favorable determination letters and which may contain one or more form defects, and plan sponsors that have not timely adopted amendments to reflect changes in the law or regulations, generally have until March 31, 2020 to cure any defects by either (i) amending and restating their plan on an up-to-date pre-approved plan document or (ii) correcting any form defects retroactively to January 1, 2010 (or the plan?ÇÖs original effective date, if later). After the March 31, 2020 deadline, generally, the only way to cure form defects in a 403(b) plan that arose prior to March 31, 2020 will be through the IRS?ÇÖs voluntary correction program.

IRS Expands Self-Correction Program Under EPCRS

The IRS recently published Rev. Proc. 2019-19, which sets forth the most current consolidated statement of the correction programs under the IRS?ÇÖs Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (?Ç£EPCRS?Ç¥). Pursuant to the new guidance, which became effective April 19, 2019, eligible plan sponsors may use the self-correction program (?Ç£SCP?Ç¥) component of EPCRS to correct certain failures that were previously only correctable under the voluntary correction program (?Ç£VCP?Ç¥) or Audit CAP components of EPCRS. Unlike VCP and Audit CAP, SCP does not require any filings or payments to the IRS. The amended SCP now includes procedures for correcting certain plan document failures and for correcting certain participant loan failures (including defaulted plan loans). Rev. Proc. 2019-19 also expands the circumstances under which certain operational failures may be corrected by plan amendment under SCP. View Rev. Proc. 2019-19. View a summary of the key changes to the SCP component of EPCRS.

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