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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

Cross-Plan Offsetting Practice is Challenged in Class Action Lawsuit

This class action lawsuit, styled Scott, et al. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on July 14, 2020. This lawsuit follows the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Peterson v. UnitedHealth Group Inc. that was issued last year. In Scott, the plaintiffs, who were participants in the plans at issue in Peterson, filed, on behalf of a class of plaintiffs (the “Class”), a class action against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiaries (collectively, “UHC”), in their capacities as an insurer and/or third-party claims administrator of employer-sponsored group health plans. The lawsuit alleges the breach of UHC’s fiduciary duties under ERISA as related to UHC’s practice of “cross-plan offsetting.” The Class consists of participants and beneficiaries in all group health plans that are administered by UHC and contain “cross-plan offsetting” (collectively, the… 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

IRS Proposed Regulations Address the Elimination of the Deduction for Certain Qualified Transportation Fringe Expenses

On June 23, 2020, the IRS released proposed regulations regarding the deduction of certain employer-provided transportation and commuting benefits to reflect changes made to Section 274 of the Internal Revenue Code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “TCJA”). The TCJA eliminated deductions by employers for qualified transportation fringe (“QTF”) expenses for amounts paid or incurred in the taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Key issues addressed in the proposed regulations include: (i) the amount of parking expenses that is not deductible when an employer owns or leases the parking facility; (ii) the amount of QTF expenses that is not deductible when an employer pays a third party to provide QTF benefits; (iii) the amount of certain expenses or reimbursements relating to transportation between an employee’s residence and place of employment that is not deductible; and (iv) the application of exceptions that may allow certain QTF expenses to… Continue Reading

Additional Federal Guidance Regarding COVID-19 and Telehealth Coverage: Some Employer Take-Aways

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services (the “Departments”) recently issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and COVID-19. A number of these FAQs address a group health plan’s required coverage of COVID-19 tests, including which tests must be covered, related facility fees, reimbursement rates, and balance billing to patients. Employers should ensure that the third party administrators of their group health plans have incorporated this guidance for plan administration purposes. In addition, some of the other FAQs may be of interest to employers. For example, the FAQs provide that, if a group health plan reverses the increased coverage of COVID-19 or telehealth after the COVID-19 public health emergency period is over, the Departments will consider the plan to have satisfied the requirement to provide advance notice of changes to the Summary of Benefits… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Guidance on Employer COVID-19 Leave-Based Charitable Donation Payments

In Notice 2020-46, the IRS provided guidance allowing employers to make cash payments to certain charitable organizations in exchange for vacation, sick, or personal leave that its employees elect to forgo without otherwise including such amounts in the employees’ gross income. In order to qualify for this relief, the payments must be made to a qualifying charitable organization no later than December 31, 2020 for the relief of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic as set forth in President Trump’s March 13, 2020 declaration of a nationwide emergency (a copy of which is available here). The employees will not be treated as constructively receiving any of the amounts they elect to forgo under the program, and the employees cannot claim a charitable contribution deduction with respect to the value of the forgone paid leave. Employers should (i) make sure that any election made by their employees is in writing and the recipient… 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

Spousal Consent Under a Retirement Plan During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Generally, a spouse must consent to a retirement plan participant’s waiver of a qualified joint and survivor annuity or the designation of an optional form of benefit or an alternate beneficiary. The applicable regulations require this consent, even if signed electronically, to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative or a notary public. Neither the IRS nor the DOL has issued guidance permitting the physical presence requirement to be satisfied by electronic means (for example, via webcam) even though numerous states now permit electronic notarizations. Employers should use care and consult with legal counsel when determining how to handle participants who are unable to satisfy the plan’s current physical presence notarization requirements.

CARES Act: Additional Guidance on the Interplay Between Social Security Tax Deferrals and Forgiveness of PPP Loans

In a new set of FAQs, the IRS clarifies that an employer who receives a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) may also defer payment of the employer portion of Social Security taxes due on eligible wages until the employer receives notice from its PPP lender that the loan has been forgiven. Under the CARES Act, employers of all sizes may defer payment of their portion of Social Security taxes due on wages earned between March 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020, until December 31, 2021 (50% of the deferred taxes are due) and December 31, 2022 (the remaining deferred taxes are due), subject to certain restrictions. One of those restrictions is that an employer may not defer its Social Security taxes if it has taken out a PPP loan and all or any portion of the loan is forgiven. The new FAQs clarify that, once an employer receives… Continue Reading

EMPLOYEE BENEFIT/EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION CHANGES MADE BY THE CARES ACT

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). This historic $2 trillion relief package received bipartisan support and is part of the third wave of federal government support as the nation copes with the acute economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  Some of the key provisions of the CARES Act that apply to health and welfare plans, educational assistance programs, retirement plans, executive compensation programs, and employment and payroll taxes are outlined below. Health and Welfare Plans Q1.      What COVID-19 testing and treatment is our company’s employer-sponsored group health plan required to cover? The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) requires an employer-sponsored group health plan (including a grandfathered plan under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”)) (a “Plan”) to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and services related to the diagnostic testing without any cost sharing (including deductibles, copayments, and… Continue Reading

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