While pension plans can provide much needed retirement benefits to an employer’s workforce, the associated liabilities of defined benefit and cash balance plans also can have a number of negative impacts on the employer, including on its financial statements. One method to reduce these negative impacts is to remove some of the liabilities from the plan by using a pension “lift-out.” Essentially, a “lift-out” transfers risk and certain liabilities (usually for retirees or beneficiaries in pay status) to an annuity provider outside of the plan. For the past few years, the value of doing a lift-out has been reduced because of the high cost of the annuities. However, the recent increase in interest rates has made annuities much more affordable, which makes a lift-out a more attractive option in the current market. Plan sponsors considering a lift-out should design a plan to implement the lift-out, which should include, without limitation,… Continue Reading
The DOL, PBGC, and IRS (the “Agencies”) recently issued a Notice of Proposed Revision (the “Notice”) to update the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report filed for employee pension and welfare benefit plans. The DOL simultaneously issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the revisions proposed in the Notice. These proposed revisions primarily relate to certain statutory amendments to ERISA and the Code enacted as part of the SECURE Act and include other changes intended to improve Form 5500 reporting. Specifically, the Notice describes the following proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report: Consolidation of the Form 5500 reporting requirement for defined contribution retirement plan groups by (i) adding a new type of direct filing entity called a “defined contribution group” reporting arrangement, and (ii) establishing a new reporting schedule for such arrangement; Modifications to reflect pooled employer plans as a type of multiple employer pension plan (“MEP”) and implement… Continue Reading
Periodically, the IRS will release guidance that highlights compliance issues that are either common issues found on audits or current concerns of the IRS. The IRS recently issued the following Issue Snapshots highlighting certain compliance issues for retirement and deferred compensation plans: IRC Section 457(b) Eligible Deferred Compensation Plan – Written Plan Requirements, Application of IRC Section 415(c) When a 403(b) Plan is Aggregated with a Section 401(a) Defined Contribution Plan, Church Plans, Automatic Contribution Arrangements, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, and Preventing the Occurrence of a Nonallocation Year under Section 409(p). If your company currently sponsors an employee benefit plan that could be impacted by the issues highlighted in these snapshots, these snapshots are a good reminder to make sure your plan is in compliance. The Issue Snapshots are available here.
ERISA Lawsuit Alleging Worker Misclassification Is A Reminder to Employers to Monitor Their Employee Classifications
A plaintiff recently filed suit against Yum! Brands, Inc. (“Yum”), Taco Bell Corp. (“Taco Bell,” together with Yum referred to herein as, the “Employers”), and various other defendants under ERISA over the alleged misclassification of his employment status. The complaint states that common law employees were eligible to participate in certain retirement plans maintained by the Employers (collectively, the “Plans”) pursuant to the Plans’ governing documents. The plaintiff alleges he met the common law test for employee status but was classified as an independent contractor, instead of an employee, during his 25 years of employment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that during the relevant employment periods, the Employers controlled the work he performed and the manner and means by which he performed his work, such as by directing the specific order and sequence of his work and requiring him to attend employee-only events and meetings. The plaintiff further alleges that other… Continue Reading
Section 9705 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥) extends the amortization period for prior year shortfalls from seven to 15 years, beginning with the 2022 plan year (or, at the election of the plan sponsor, the 2019, 2020, or 2021 plan year). Section 9706 of the ARPA both modifies and extends the funding stabilization percentages for single employer defined benefit pension plans through 2029 and allows plan sponsors to elect whether to have these modified percentages apply for all purposes or solely for the purpose of determining the plan?ÇÖs adjusted funding target attainment percentage.?á The plan sponsor may further elect whether to apply the modified percentages beginning with the 2020, 2021, or 2022 plan year.?á The ARPA is available here.?á
Employee Benefits Regulations Potentially Impacted by the Biden Administration?ÇÖs Regulatory Freeze
On January 20, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum (the ?Ç£Memo?Ç¥) announcing a regulatory freeze on regulations that have not taken effect as of the date of the Memo. Specifically, the Memo recommends postponing the effective date of any regulation that has been issued, but has not taken effect, for 60 days from the date of the Memo. The Memo further directs that regulations not yet published in the Federal Register be immediately withdrawn for review. Listed below are some of the proposed and final regulations related to employee benefits that may be subject to withdrawal or postponement under the Memo: Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 ?Çô Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. Final Rule. Application of the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions and Certain Nondiscrimination Rules to Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans Integrated with Individual Health Insurance Coverage or Medicare. Final Rule. Pension Benefit Statements-Lifetime… Continue Reading
As reported by the U.S. Social Security Administration (the ?Ç£SSA?Ç¥), 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?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖs defined contribution plan. Information on these changes is available on the SSA’s website here.
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,?áthe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that ?Ç£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?ÇÖs sponsor by another entity, it remains the constructive sponsor such that other members of its controlled group may be held liable for the plan?ÇÖs termination liabilities.?Ç¥?á In this case, Liberty Lightening Co. Inc. (?Ç£Liberty?Ç¥) sponsored and administered a pension plan under ERISA (the ?Ç£Pension Plan?Ç¥).?á 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.?á In 2012, the Pension Plan was formally terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (the ?Ç£PBGC?Ç¥) due to the Pension Plan?ÇÖs pending insolvency.?á 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 ?Ç£Snapshot?Ç¥) 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
U.S. Supreme Court Denies Cert in Sun Capital Appeal; Leaves Door Open for Private Equity Fund Liability for Portfolio Company Pension Liabilities
In the latest development in the Sun Capital line of cases, on October 5, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review of New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund v. Sun Capital Partners. The Sun Capital cases center around the issue of whether affiliated private equity funds, Sun Capital Partners III and Sun Capital Partners IV (collectively, the ?Ç£Funds?Ç¥), can be held liable for the pension fund withdrawal liability of a portfolio company, Scott Brass Inc. (?Ç£SBI?Ç¥), which went into bankruptcy while owned by the Funds. In 2013, the First Circuit held that multiple private equity funds could be jointly and severally liable under ERISA for the withdrawal liability of a portfolio company if such funds were (i) a trade or business and (ii) in the company?ÇÖs controlled group (see our prior blog post on that court decision here). On remand by the First Circuit in 2016, the… Continue Reading