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COVID-19 Vaccinations ?Çô Employer Requirements and Incentives

Recent guidance issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the ?Ç£EEOC?Ç¥) addresses many common employment issues regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, including the applicability of certain federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ?Ç£ADA?Ç¥), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and Title VII of the of the Civil Rights Act (?Ç£Title VII?Ç¥). In accordance with this EEOC guidance, an employer may require employees who are physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to certain ?Ç£reasonable accommodations?Ç¥ under the ADA and Title VII for employees who are unable to get vaccinated due to a covered disability, pregnancy, or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. The guidance provides a list of examples of reasonable accommodations, such as requiring the use of face masks, social distancing, working modified shifts, periodic testing for COVID-19, and giving employees the opportunity to telework or accept a reassignment. In addition, an employer… Continue Reading

COBRA Premium Assistance FAQs and Model Notices Issued

The DOL?áissued new model notices that may be used in connection with COBRA premium assistance requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥). These model notices include (i) an ARPA General Notice, (ii) a Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods, (iii) an Alternative Notice, and (iv) a Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance. The DOL also issued a Summary of ARPA requirements, which the DOL states should be included with the ARPA General Notice, the Alternative Notice, and the Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods. Use of the model notices is not required. The ARPA General Notice (or its equivalent) should be sent to each COBRA qualified beneficiary (?Ç£QB?Ç¥) who experiences a COBRA qualifying event from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The FAQs issued in conjunction with the model notices state that the ARPA General Notice must be sent only to those… Continue Reading

Required Minimum Distributions: A Tragedy in Three Acts

The SECURE Act and CARES Act made significant changes to required minimum distributions (?Ç£RMDs?Ç¥). What should you be doing to ensure your retirement plans are administered correctly? The first step is to understand your options. SECURE Act Shifts the Start Before the SECURE Act, RMDs had to begin by April 1st of the calendar year following the later of (i) the calendar year during which the participant retires or (ii) the calendar year in which the participant turns age 70??.?á Following the passage of the SECURE Act, the age cutoff in that rule changed from age 70?? to age 72, but only for individuals who turned age 70?? on or after January 1, 2020 (i.e., individuals born on or after July 1, 1949). In short, those terminated vested participants born before July 1, 1949 had to start their RMDs by April 1 of the year after turning 70??, while those… Continue Reading

California Expands Mental Health Parity Requirements

California recently enacted Senate Bill 855 (?Ç£SB 855?Ç¥), which expands certain requirements related to mental health and substance use disorders. SB 855 applies to any California ?Ç£health care service plan contract?Ç¥ or disability insurance policy issued, amended, or renewed on or after January 1, 2021. Significantly, SB 855 renders ?Ç£void and unenforceable?Ç¥ any provision in a health care service plan contract that reserves discretionary authority to the plan to determine eligibility for benefits or coverage, interpret the terms of the contract, or provide for standards of interpretation or review that are inconsistent with California law. If this provision is not preempted by ERISA as applied to an employer-sponsored group health plan, such mandate could eliminate the deferential standard of review that would otherwise be available under ERISA to the plan administrator. SB 855 is available here.

Have You Notified Participants of Extended Deadlines?

As noted in our prior post here, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice requiring all employee health and welfare benefit plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (or other announced date) when determining the deadline to request HIPAA special enrollment, elect COBRA coverage, make a COBRA premium payment, notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of a disability, file a benefit claim or appeal, or request an external review of a benefit claim denial. Although the notice did not address whether plan participants needed to be notified of these extended deadlines, plan administrators should be aware that they likely have a fiduciary duty to accurately convey this information to participants. For example, a COBRA election notice that states a deadline to elect or make premium payments without mentioning… Continue Reading

Cases Highlight Importance of Governing Law Clauses in ERISA Plan Documents

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that the choice of law provision contained in a long-term disability insurance policy (the ?Ç£LTD Policy?Ç¥) controlled when determining which state law applied to the case. The LTD Policy, which was subject to regulation under ERISA as an employee benefit plan, stated that it was governed by the law of Pennsylvania, where Comcast (the employer) was incorporated and had its principal place of business. The employee argued that Colorado law controlled, because Colorado is where the employee worked for Comcast and filed the lawsuit. This was important because Colorado insurance law prohibited granting discretion to the plan administrator to interpret the LTD Policy, whereas Pennsylvania law did not prohibit this deferential standard. Generally, a plan administrator?ÇÖs denial of benefits under an ERISA plan is reviewed by a court de novo (i.e., without deference being paid to the plan administrator?ÇÖs… Continue Reading

Use Care When Implementing CARES Act Retirement Plan Distributions ?Çô 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

Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans

On April 29, 2020, the U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury (together, the ?Ç£Departments?Ç¥) issued a notice (the ?Ç£Notice?Ç¥) requiring that all group health plans, disability and other types of employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans, subject to ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency or such other date as announced by the Departments in a future notice (the ?Ç£Outbreak Period?Ç¥) for the following periods and dates: The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request HIPAA special enrollment; The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage; The date for making COBRA premium payments; The date for individuals to notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of disability; The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under the plan?ÇÖs claims procedures;… Continue Reading

The DOL and the IRS Jointly Provide Relief from Certain Timeframes Applicable to Health and Welfare and Pension Plans

On April 28, 2020, the IRS and DOL issued a Final Rule extending certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and the participants and beneficiaries under those plans. The timeframe extensions include, among other things, the time to elect COBRA and pay premiums, special enrollment timeframes under HIPPA and CHIPs, claims procedure timeframes, and certain external review process timeframes.?á Applicable plans must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency for all plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants wherever located in determining the enumerated time periods and dates and for providing COBRA election notices. ?áIn addition, Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 was issued addressing the timeframe relief and addressing certain other COVID-19 relief. The Final Rule is available here:?áhttps://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/temporary-postings/covid-19-final-rule.pdf. Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 is available here:?áhttps://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/disaster-relief/ebsa-disaster-relief-notice-2020-01.

Are Your Voluntary Benefits Programs Subject to ERISA?

An employer should be cautious to not ?Ç£endorse?Ç¥ a voluntary benefits program that the employer wants to be exempt from ERISA. The DOL?ÇÖs safe harbor exempting certain plans from ERISA (often called ?Ç£voluntary plans?Ç¥) requires the sole function of the employer to be, without endorsing the program, to permit the insurer to publicize the program to employees and to collect premiums and remit them to the insurer. Federal courts have found impermissible endorsements where employers either encouraged their employees to participate in their voluntary benefits program or selected the insurer and limited eligibility criteria. For example, in October 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided a case involving whether the employer?ÇÖs endorsement of a volunteer disability benefits program caused it to be subject to ERISA. The Court found that (i) a reasonable employee would not view the program as being merely a third-party offering and (ii)… Continue Reading

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