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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’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (the “EBSA”) 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

COBRA Premium Assistance FAQs and Model Notices Issued

The DOL issued new model notices that may be used in connection with COBRA premium assistance requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”). 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 (“QB”) 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

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the “Statement”), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” final rule (the “ESG Rule”) and the “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” final rule (the “Proxy Voting Rule”, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the “Final Rules”). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of “pecuniary factors,” and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary’s obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

Employee Benefits Regulations Potentially Impacted by the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Freeze

On January 20, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum (the “Memo”) announcing a regulatory freeze on regulations that have not taken effect as of the date of the Memo. Specifically, the Memo recommends postponing the effective date of any regulation that has been issued, but has not taken effect, for 60 days from the date of the Memo. The Memo further directs that regulations not yet published in the Federal Register be immediately withdrawn for review. Listed below are some of the proposed and final regulations related to employee benefits that may be subject to withdrawal or postponement under the Memo: Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 – Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. Final Rule. Application of the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions and Certain Nondiscrimination Rules to Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans Integrated with Individual Health Insurance Coverage or Medicare. Final Rule. Pension Benefit Statements-Lifetime… Continue Reading

DOL Increases Civil Monetary Penalties for Certain ERISA Violations

The DOL recently issued a final rule that adjusts for inflation the amounts of civil monetary penalties assessed or enforced in its regulations, including for certain ERISA violations. The adjusted penalty amounts apply to penalties assessed after January 15, 2021 and for which the associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015. Some of the penalties that were increased include the following: The maximum penalty for failing to properly file a pension or welfare benefit plan’s annual Form 5500 increased from $2,233 per day to $2,259 per day. The maximum penalty for failing to provide notices of blackout periods or of the right to divest employer securities increased from $141 per day to $143 per day (each statutory recipient is a separate violation). The maximum penalty for failing to provide employees the required Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage notices increased from $119 per day to $120 per day (each employee… 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.  This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.  As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.  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.

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.  As of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (“NQTLs”) 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.

Plan Record Retention Considerations in Corporate Transactions

As we’ve 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’s retirement plan are to be merged into the buyer’s plan. When acquiring a company that sponsors (or has sponsored) its own retirement plan, plan sponsors should consider: Protected Benefits. Though the buyer’s plan may be amended to protect certain benefits under the target’s plan, as required by the Internal Revenue Code, in many cases the plan sponsor will need to refer to the target’s 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

February Deadline to Have Mental Health Parity Documentation in Place

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the “CAA”) requires an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (“NQTLs”) 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

DOL Issues Missing Participant Guidance

The DOL issued three pieces of guidance relating to missing participants in tax-qualified retirement plans. In response to the new guidance, described in more detail below, employers should again review their plan documents and any plan policies and procedures, to ensure they align with the DOL’s requirements and best practices for avoiding and handling missing participants. In Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2021-01, the DOL issued a temporary enforcement policy on the use of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (“PBGC”) Defined Contribution Missing Participants Program for terminating defined contribution plans. Under the temporary enforcement policy, the DOL will not pursue violations under ERISA’s fiduciary rules if the plan fiduciary of a terminating defined contribution plan transfers the benefits of missing participants to the PBGC under the program and otherwise follows the requirements of the DOL fiduciary safe harbor regulation at 29 CFR 2550.404a-3. In Compliance Assistance Release No. 2021-01, the DOL issued… Continue Reading

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