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New Required COBRA Premium Subsidy

Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “Subsidy”) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Under the ARPA, the federal government will reimburse the employer, in the form of a tax credit, the cost of the premiums for up to six months, from April 1 to September 30, 2021. Specifically, the Subsidy will end on the earliest of: (i) September 30, 2021; (ii) the date the qualified beneficiary becomes eligible for other health plan coverage or Medicare; or (iii) the date the qualified beneficiary’s COBRA coverage period ends. Further, any individual who would have been eligible for the Subsidy, had he or she previously elected, or continued, COBRA coverage, will have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage under a special… 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.

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

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

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and Benefits Changes Employers Need to Focus on Right Now

Retirement Plans Additional Relief May Help Prevent Partial Plan Terminations The recently adopted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “CAA”) provides relief for qualified retirement plans of employers that had to reduce their workforce as a result of the pandemic (through furloughs, layoffs, or terminations) for plan years that include the period beginning on March 13, 2020 and ending on March 31, 2021. Specifically, these plans shall not be treated as incurring a partial plan termination if the number of active participants covered by the plan on March 31, 2021 is at least 80% of the number of active participants that were covered by the plan on March 13, 2020. A partial plan termination generally occurs when more than 20% of a plan’s participants are terminated in a plan year. If a partial plan termination occurs, then the plan is required to 100% vest any “affected employees”. “Affected employees” are… Continue Reading

Substantial Changes to Norwegian Defined Contribution Plans Effective January 1, 2021

As reported by the U.S. Social Security Administration (the “SSA”), Norway finalized certain legal and operational changes to employer defined contribution pension plans to be effective January 1, 2021, which include: (i) eliminating vesting periods for employer contributions; (ii) permitting employees to select pension providers other than the ones chosen by their employers for administration of the employee’s defined contribution account balances; and (iii) unless an employee opts out, automatically transferring all of an employee’s account balances under his or her prior employer defined contribution plans into the employee’s account under his or her current employer’s defined contribution plan. Information on these changes is available on the SSA’s website here.

IRS Issues Additional Guidance on Certain Coronavirus-Related Tax Credits

In a new series of FAQs, the IRS issued additional guidance on tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”). The first set of FAQs explains what amounts can be counted as qualified family leave wages for purposes of the tax credit granted for such amounts. The second set of FAQs explains how to determine the amount of qualified health plan expenses for purposes of the tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages, including how health plan expenses may be calculated for self-funded and fully insured plans, as well as how to calculate health plan expenses when an employer offers more than one health plan or other health-related benefits, such as health flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. Links to the guidance are below, and more detailed information on the… 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

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.

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