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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

Controlled Group Companies are Potentially Liable if a Dissolving Company Does Not Terminate its ERISA Plans and is Not Replaced by a New Plan Sponsor

In Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. 50509 Marine LLC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that “where the sponsor of an ERISA plan dissolves under state law but continues to authorize payments to beneficiaries and is not supplanted as the plan’s sponsor by another entity, it remains the constructive sponsor such that other members of its controlled group may be held liable for the plan’s termination liabilities.”  In this case, Liberty Lightening Co. Inc. (“Liberty”) sponsored and administered a pension plan under ERISA (the “Pension Plan”).  When Liberty went bankrupt and was dissolved under state law in 1992, Liberty continued to be the de facto sponsor of the Pension Plan, and the Pension Plan continued to operate.  In 2012, the Pension Plan was formally terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (the “PBGC”) due to the Pension Plan’s pending insolvency.  Six years later, the… Continue Reading

IRS Issue Snapshot Highlights Plan Sponsor Responsibilities to Missing Participants and Beneficiaries

The IRS recently published an Issue Snapshot (the “Snapshot”) on IRS.gov that revisits the steps a plan sponsor must complete in order to locate missing plan participants and beneficiaries. While the Snapshot does not contain any new guidance, its publication is an indication that ensuring plan sponsors are undertaking appropriate steps to locate missing participants and beneficiaries remains an area of focus for the IRS, including when they are conducting plan audits. Under current IRS guidance, plan sponsors should complete the following steps to attempt to locate missing plan participants and beneficiaries: Search for alternate contact information (address, telephone number, email, etc.) held by the plan or any related plan, sponsor, or publicly-available records or directories. Use a commercial locator service, credit reporting agency, or proprietary Internet search tool for locating individuals. Mail a letter via certified mail to the last known mailing address and through any appropriate means for… Continue Reading

Calculating PBGC Variable-Rate Premiums for Delayed Prior Year Contributions

Generally, when determining the value of a defined benefit plan’s assets for purposes of calculating PBGC variable-rate premiums (“VRP”), prior year contributions are included only if received by the plan by the date the premium is filed. The premium filing deadline for a calendar year plan is October 15th. The CARES Act, together with IRS Notice 2020-61, extended the deadline for minimum required contributions and contributions in excess of the minimum during calendar year 2020 until January 1, 2021. On September 23, 2020, the PBGC issued Technical Update 20-2 permitting contributions made in accordance with these extensions to be included for purposes of calculating the VRP. Specifically, for premium filings due on or after March 1, 2020 and before January 1, 2021 (including those due on October 15, 2020 for calendar year plans), contributions received by the plan by January 1, 2021 can be included in plan assets for determining… Continue Reading

Practice Tip: Warning Signs Your Plan May Have a Missing Participants Problem

When participants in a qualified retirement plan terminate employment with the plan sponsor, it can be challenging to ensure that their contact information in the plan’s records is kept up to date and accurate. Inaccurate contact information is problematic for a variety of reasons, including potentially causing an operational failure when such participants do not receive distribution of their plan benefits by their required distribution date, as well as increasing the possibility of fraud when a participant’s information is sent to the wrong address. In addition, a plan sponsor’s failure to make reasonable efforts to locate missing participants would be a breach of their fiduciary duties of loyalty and prudence. Often, the first indication that a participant may be missing is that mail sent to their last known address is returned undeliverable or their distribution checks are returned or remain uncashed. In addition, a plan sponsor should check to see… Continue Reading

Practice Tip – Missing Participants Remain a Significant Concern for Retirement Plan Sponsors

When participants in qualified retirement plans are no longer current employees of the plan sponsor, it can be challenging to ensure that the contact information in the plan’s records is up to date and accurate. However, inaccurate contact information in the plan’s records is problematic for a variety of reasons, including causing operational failures when participants do not receive distribution of benefits by the plan’s required distribution date and increasing the possibility of fraud when a participant’s information is sent to the wrong address. Plan administrators should review their procedures for locating missing participants and ensure that they are (1) consistent with available guidance from the IRS and the DOL, (2) appropriate for the plan and its participant population, and (3) being followed consistently by the plan administrator or its delegate. Plan administrators should also document any steps undertaken to locate missing participants. The plan’s procedures should also address how… Continue Reading

PBGC Adds Fiduciary Breaches to Mediation Program

In 2017, the PBGC introduced a program that offered voluntary mediation with certain termination liability collection and Early Warning Program cases. The program was made permanent and was expanded to include fiduciary breach cases in 2019. Mediation is offered to eligible plan sponsors either with the demand letter (for fiduciary breach cases) or at the outset of mediation (for Early Warning Program cases) or after review of the information disclosed to the PBGC under 29 C.F.R. § 4062.6 (for termination liability cases). View the PBGC Mediation Program.

PBGC Expands Missing Participants Program to Terminated Defined Contribution Plans

The PBGC issued a final rule on December 22, 2017, that expands the missing participants program from covering only terminated PBGC-insured, single-employer defined benefit plans to also covering defined contribution plans (“DC Plans”), such as 401(k) plans, PBGC-insured multiemployer plans, and non-PBGC-insured defined benefit plans sponsored by professional service organizations that terminate on or after January 1, 2018. Participation will be voluntary for DC Plans and professional service organization plans, and terminating DC Plans will have the option of transferring all missing participants’ benefits to the PBGC in lieu of establishing an IRA. There would be a one-time fee upon the transfer of assets to the PBGC, and thereafter participant accounts would not be reduced by ongoing maintenance fees. After a participant is located, the PBGC would pay his or her initial account balance with interest to the participant when located. View the PBGC’s Missing Participants Program webpage. View the… Continue Reading

PBGC Provides Disaster Relief to Persons in Texas Affected by Hurricane Harvey

In Disaster Relief Announcement 17-09, the PBGC announced that it is waiving certain penalties and extending certain deadlines in response to Hurricane Harvey. In accordance with the relief granted by the IRS in Tax Relief Notice TX-2017-09, the PBGC will provide relief relating to PBGC deadlines to persons responsible for meeting PBGC deadlines who reside or are located in the disaster area consisting of Aransas, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Harris, Jackson, Kleberg, Liberty, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria and Wharton Counties in Texas (“Designated Persons“). The relief generally extends from August 23, 2017 through January 31, 2018 (the “Relief Period“). Importantly, the relief offered by the PBGC does not cover every situation in which relief may be warranted. For example, it does not provide relief for certain filings that involve particularly important or time sensitive information where there may be a high risk of substantial… Continue Reading

PBGC Issues Guidance Listing Triggers Under its Early Warning Program

ERISA section 4042(a)(4) provides that the PBGC “may institute proceedings . . . to terminate a plan whenever it determines that the possible long-run loss of the corporation with respect to the plan may reasonably be expected to increase unreasonably if the plan is not terminated.” The PBGC investigates potential candidates for involuntary termination under its early warning program. The PBGC recently issued guidance listing examples of situations that would trigger such an investigation. Some examples relate to corporate transactions (e.g., transferring the plan to a weaker sponsor or controlled group following a controlled group breakup) whereas others relate to the financial deterioration of the plan sponsor (e.g., downgrading of a plan sponsor’s credit ratings or a downward trend in cash flow). View a full list of the early warning triggers.

April 2021
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