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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

Employer Religious and Moral Exemptions to the Provision of Contraceptive Care Remain Intact

In a recent seven-to-two opinion in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rights of certain employers to claim exemption from providing contraceptive care under the preventive care mandate of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) based on religious or moral objections. General Background of the Case The ACA requires covered employers to provide women with “preventive care and screenings” without any cost sharing requirements (the “Preventive Care Mandate”). The ACA relies on “preventive care guidelines” (“Guidelines”) supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”), an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, to determine what “preventive care and screenings” should include. The Guidelines mandate that health plans provide coverage for all FDA approved contraceptive methods. When the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”)… Continue Reading

UPDATE: Calculation of Payroll Costs for Purposes of the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”)

The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) continues to update its FAQs on PPP loans to provide additional guidance regarding what costs constitute payroll costs. Borrowers should use care in determining what amounts constitute payroll costs since borrowers are responsible for providing an accurate calculation of payroll costs and must attest to the accuracy of those calculations on their Borrower Application Form. Under the new guidance the SBA clarified: The $100,000 annualized per employee cap only applies to cash compensation and does not include any non-cash benefits, such as employer contributions to defined benefit or defined contribution retirement plans, payment for the provision of employee benefits consisting of group health care coverage, including insurance premiums, and payment of state and local taxes assessed on employees’ compensation. PPP loans can be used to cover costs for employee paid vacation, parental, family, medical and sick leave (other than qualified sick and family wages for… Continue Reading

COVID-19 Relief – Added Flexibility to 125 Cafeteria Plans

Prospective Mid-Year Election Changes IRS Notice 2020-29 allows employers to amend cafeteria plans to permit employees to make the following prospective mid-year election changes (including an initial election) for employer-sponsored health coverage, health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), and dependent care FSAs during calendar year 2020, regardless of whether the basis for the election change satisfies the “change in status” rules under Treas. Reg.  §1.125-4: Make a new election for employer-sponsored health coverage, if the employee initially declined to elect employer-sponsored health coverage; Revoke an existing election for employer-sponsored health coverage and make a new election to enroll in different health coverage sponsored by the same employer (including changing enrollment from self-only coverage to family coverage); Revoke an existing election for employer-sponsored health coverage, provided that the employee attests in writing that the employee is enrolled, or immediately will enroll, in other health coverage not sponsored by the employer; Revoke an… 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 “Departments”) issued a notice (the “Notice”) 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 “Outbreak Period”) 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’s claims procedures;… Continue Reading

Employee Benefits as Payroll Costs under the Paycheck Protection Program

Businesses that received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) are eligible for forgiveness of that loan if, among other things, the loan proceeds are used to cover “payroll costs” incurred over the eight-week period after the loan is made. Payroll costs, capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee (i.e., $15,384 over the eight-week period), are broadly defined to include, among other things: Salary, wages, commissions, or tips; Employee benefits costs, such as for vacation or paid family or medical leave (other than wages for which a credit is received under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), group health care costs, retirement plan contributions, and severance benefits; and State and local taxes assessed on employee compensation. As of the date of this posting, no guidance has been issued by the IRS or the Department of Treasury to further clarify what specific items qualify as payroll costs.… Continue Reading

Evaluating Performance Goals and Incentive Compensation in Light of COVID-19

Boards and compensation committees will be reevaluating their incentive compensation arrangements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting market uncertainty. Both long-term and short-term incentive plans can lose motivational and retention value if the performance goals are unachievable or if they do not align with market reality. Companies that have not yet established performance goals for their 2020 equity and bonus awards should carefully consider market conditions and shareholder perception before establishing goals, focusing on motivating their executives with pay for performance that aligns with shareholders’ interests, while giving the company flexibility to navigate through uncharted territory. To the extent possible, companies should also consider delaying the issuance of incentive compensation awards until there is more stability in the business and in the financial markets. Companies that have already established goals for their 2020 awards (or that are evaluating the continued effectiveness of performance goals for prior year… Continue Reading

Health and Welfare Issues and COVID-19: Reminder: Decrease in Pay/Hours Does Not Permit Dropping Health Plan Coverage If There is No Loss of Eligibility

As many employers reduce employees’ work hours, employers should consider that employees will remain responsible for their health plan contributions even though their pay is decreasing. As long as eligibility for coverage does not change, an employee is not permitted to change his or her health plan elections due solely to the decrease in pay or hours. One exception to this general rule is a change in status event created in connection with the Affordable Care Act, which provides that, in certain circumstances, an employee with reduced work hours may drop health plan coverage if the employee enrolls in other health plan coverage. Because the reduced pay may not cover all payroll deductions, employers should consider adopting a priority order for payroll deductions (e.g., health plan deductions are made before 401(k) plan deductions). In addition, an employer may want to consider a waiver of premiums, which is permitted if done… Continue Reading

CARES Act Relief Checklist: Considerations in Deciding What Relief is Right for Your Business

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) offers relief to businesses affected by COVID-19 through various programs, including forgivable loans and federal income tax credits. However, the CARES Act prevents businesses from claiming certain benefits that are considered duplicative.  The following checklist outlines key considerations for businesses when selecting among the Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”), the Employee Retention Tax Credit, the Employer Social Security Tax Deferral, and Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Certain industries, such as aviation, have specialized relief, which is beyond the scope of this checklist. In deciding what relief is appropriate, businesses should consider, as discussed in detail below, employer size, what may be best for the business’s employees, and the business’s long-term prospects. While this checklist is designed as a tool to assist businesses in choosing the proper relief, the best way to determine which option is optimal for a particular business… Continue Reading

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