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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

Before Cleaning Out Files, Brush Up on Record Retention Requirements

Our world is filled with paper and electronic records, and the HR departments at most companies are no exception. Enrollment forms, notices, plan documents, summary plan descriptions, benefit statements, and service records are just a few of the records that fill the HR department’s file cabinets and computer storage. While it might be tempting to clean out files, plan sponsors should exercise care before disposing of any files relating to benefits under a plan. A clean desk today could create headaches tomorrow. Generally, ERISA requires an employer to retain plan records to support plan filings, including the annual Form 5500, for at least six years from the filing date (ERISA §107) and to maintain records for each employee sufficient to determine the benefits due or that may become due to such employee (ERISA §209), with no time limit on such requirement. In addition, HIPAA requires retention of the policies and… Continue Reading

Inaccurate Leave of Absence Provisions May Lead to Stop Loss Carrier Denial of Claims

For employees on a leave of absence (“LOA”) or a furlough, employers often extend group health plan coverage during the LOA or furlough for a prescribed time period. With regard to group health plans that are considered to be “self-insured,” generally, the employer’s reinsurer, or stop loss carrier, is only required to cover claims (above the policy’s self-insured retention level) incurred for a covered person based on the written terms of the plan. In other words, the policy underwrites the coverage that is provided under the plan document. If extended coverage during a LOA or furlough is not expressly set out in the plan document, a stop loss carrier could seek to deny claims incurred during that period. It is thus recommended that employers with self-insured plans review their health plan documents to ensure consistency with administrative practices regarding coverage during LOAs and furloughs and coordinate as necessary with the… Continue Reading

Is it Time for an Investment Committee Tune-up?

Companies sponsoring a 401(k) plan to help their employees save for retirement often form an investment committee to help select plan investments without realizing the duties that the committee assumes.  To help prevent investment committee members from unintentionally breaching their fiduciary duties, companies periodically review their investment committee compliance and should keep complete records of appointments, policies, and procedures.  The following investment committee checklist can be a starting point for this review: Review the underlying plan document to determine who it lists as the “named fiduciary”.  Most plan documents provided by third party administrators list the “plan sponsor” as the named fiduciary, which means the board of directors is the governing body responsible for acting as a fiduciary, absent a delegation of such fiduciary responsibility by the board of directors to a committee.  If your plan lists the “plan sponsor” as the named fiduciary and you have a committee selecting… Continue Reading

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits in the Time of COVID – IRS Provides an Overview on Treatment of Unused Amounts and Changes to Elections

Prior to the pandemic, many employees used qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as receiving mass transit passes or paying for on-site parking on a pre-tax basis, to help defray the costs of getting to the office. As a result of the pandemic, many workers are working from home, with no need to pay for on-site parking or reap the benefit of employer-provided mass transit passes. The pandemic has also caused some employees to change their mode of transportation, with many deciding to forgo the use of mass transit to drive their own vehicles to work. A recent IRS information letter outlined some options available to employees whose use of qualified transportation has changed throughout the course of the pandemic. Under the example in the information letter, an employee was no longer using mass transit, and so, no longer needed to use compensation deductions to pay for mass transit passes. Instead,… Continue Reading

Claim Alleging Unauthorized Payroll Deductions for Tobacco Surcharge Preempted by ERISA

In the recent case of Mebane v. GKN Driveline N. Am., Inc., No. 1:18-CV-00892 (M.D.N.C. Nov. 05, 2020), the federal district court held that a claim brought under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”) is preempted by ERISA. The employee-plaintiffs in this case alleged their employer violated the NCWHA by deducting from their paychecks, without express authorization, a monetary penalty for those employees who participate in the employer’s group health plan and use tobacco products (i.e., a so-called “tobacco surcharge”). The defendant-employer filed a motion to dismiss this claim for unauthorized payroll deductions as being preempted by ERISA. The court agreed and dismissed the employees’ claim, ruling that it was preempted by ERISA. The court’s opinion is available here.

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 (“MHPAEA”). 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 “internal compliance plan” is new, and although not required under the MHPAEA, the DOL’s goal for the internal compliance plan was to show how an internal compliance strategy can assist… Continue Reading

Federal Tax Withholding and Reporting Requirements for Distributions from a Qualified Retirement Plan to a State’s Unclaimed Property Fund

Third party administrators for employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans often recommend to employers that unclaimed account balances for mandatory cash-outs of small amounts (under $1,000) be remitted to the unclaimed property fund for the participant’s state of residence. The IRS recently clarified in Rev. Rul. 2020-24 that amounts remitted to a state’s unclaimed property fund are subject to withholding under Section 3405 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) and, in the event the amounts distributed exceed $10, reporting under Section 6047 of the Code. A plan sponsor will not be treated as failing to comply with the withholding and reporting requirements with respect to payments made before the earlier of January 1, 2022 or the date it becomes reasonably practicable for the plan sponsor to comply with such requirements. An employer that sponsors a qualified retirement plan should discuss this guidance with their plan’s third-party administrator to ensure that any… Continue Reading

Extending Health Plan Coverage for Furloughed Employees

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have placed a portion of their workforces into a furloughed status. Some employers want to keep furloughed employees covered under the employer’s group health plan. For a self-funded plan, many stop-loss insurers have approved keeping furloughed employees covered under the plan in covered employment status (as opposed to offering COBRA coverage) for up to six months. In addition, many insurance companies have offered similar coverage extensions under fully-insured, group health plans. As the pandemic continues, some employers want to continue covering furloughed employees beyond the original six-month period. Before providing extended coverage for furloughed employees, it is critical that the employer first obtain written approval from the stop loss carrier for any self-funded benefits, as well as from the insurer for any fully-insured benefits, before granting such an extension, in addition to timely amending the affected plans and communicating such amendments to participants.

Proceed with Caution When Modifying Equity-Based Performance Awards

Most equity-based performance awards for employees that will vest at the end of 2020 were granted well before the COVID-19 pandemic began (in fact, many were granted two years or more before the pandemic), and none of the performance metrics for these awards likely anticipated the havoc the pandemic has caused to the companies’ financial and stock performance. In many cases, the pandemic has rendered these equity-based performance awards worthless to employees because the performance metrics are not even remotely achievable. Yet, employees have been working harder than ever to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Some employers looking for ways to continue to reward and retain employees are eyeing modifications of existing equity-based performance awards to either lower the target and stretch performance goals or to eliminate the performance requirement completely, at least for awards vesting in 2020 (making the awards solely time-based). Before proceeding with any such modifications,… Continue Reading

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