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Reminder: Employer Obligations Regarding Employee Life Insurance Coverage

In our prior blog post here, we discussed the case of Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., which highlighted the importance of an employer’s understanding of how its group term life insurance coverage is impacted by changes in employment status, such as termination of employment, retirement, or a leave of absence. This understanding is necessary for the employer to correctly communicate to employees when life insurance coverage will end, when evidence of insurability will be required, and the requirements necessary to convert coverage. In Anastos, the employer drafted its retiree benefit plan to state that eligible retirees could continue life insurance and that, in most cases, coverage would be guaranteed with no medical certification required. When a retiree attempted to obtain this coverage, the employer admitted that its plan was misleading and that it could not obtain underwriting to provide that kind of life insurance continuation benefit. The retiree sued, and… Continue Reading

Reminder: A Release of Claims May Not Offer Blanket Protection Against Potential ERISA Claims

A recent federal district court case, Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., illustrates that a release agreement executed upon employment termination may not offer blanket protection for employers against potential future ERISA or other claims that arise after termination (and after the release agreement has been executed). In Anastos, an employee sued his former employer alleging the information provided to him about the employer’s retiree life insurance program led him to believe that no medical certification would be required to continue his life insurance coverage post-retirement. After the employee retired, his employer informed him that life insurance coverage was not available post-termination under the employer-provided plan and that, instead, he would have to convert the coverage to a whole life insurance policy with MetLife. MetLife required a medical examination before it would issue the policy, and the employee would not be able to satisfy the medical examination requirement. The employer filed a… Continue Reading

Future Mental Health Parity Enforcement Efforts

As discussed in our blog post here, effective as of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (“NQTLs”) on mental health or substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) benefits must have documentation of a “comparative analysis” that must demonstrate the NQTLs imposed under the plan for MH/SUD benefits are not more restrictive than the NQTLs that apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in a particular classification. Generally, an NQTL is a limitation on the scope of benefits for treatment that is not expressed numerically (e.g., a prior authorization requirement). Recent DOL FAQs state that, in the near term, the DOL expects to focus on the following NQTLs in its enforcement efforts: Prior authorization requirements for in-network and out-of-network inpatient services; Concurrent review for in-network and out-of-network inpatient and outpatient services; Standards for provider admission to participate in a network, including reimbursement rates; and Out-of-network reimbursement rates… Continue Reading

Guidance on Benefit Plan Cybersecurity Best Practices

Plan participants now enroll, change elections, review benefits, apply for plan loans and hardship distributions, and access account information through websites and cellphone apps. As electronic access to plan information has increased, so has the interest of hackers in obtaining the wealth of information stored electronically. Recently, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (the “EBSA”) issued the following cybersecurity guidance documents to help plan sponsors comply with their duties to protect plan information: Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices: These tips are intended to help plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries meet their duties under ERISA to prudently select and monitor service providers. They include a list of questions to ask and considerations to make when evaluating potential service providers. Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: This guidance provides a list of 12 best practices intended to help plan fiduciaries mitigate cybersecurity risks and make prudent decisions when selecting… Continue Reading

Voluntary Correction Program Applications – Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (“VCP”) submissions, which is available here. The errors listed generally relate to issues associated with the submission of files in the correct PDF format, failing to pay the correct user fee, or the incorrect submission of the Form 8950. Filing a VCP application can be a useful method for plan sponsors to correct operational issues that have spanned numerous years or  other issues for which self-correction is unavailable. Errors in the submission can delay resolution of the application or, in some cases, cause a rejection of the application. In addition to the common errors outlined by the IRS, plan sponsors should also use care to avoid the following additional common issues: Failure to Submit a Comprehensive Filing – If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Decision is a Reminder to Employers on Structuring Severance Plans

Last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Atkins v. CB&I, LLC is a reminder that employers may prefer to structure bonus and severance programs so as to be covered by ERISA and thus avoid being subject to unfavorable state laws. In Atkins, five employees brought suit in Louisiana state court claiming their employer’s project incentive bonus plan—which pays a single bonus payment to employees who are laid off or complete their roles in a specific project—constituted an illegal wage forfeiture agreement under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act. Each of the employees had quit and consequently forfeited their bonuses under the plan’s terms. The employer removed the suit to federal district court claiming the bonus plan was a severance plan subject to ERISA and thus ERISA, as controlling federal law, preempted the employees’ state law claims. The district court agreed. The Fifth Circuit reversed… Continue Reading

Big Increase in Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account Limit for 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”), which was enacted on March 11, 2021, temporarily increases the maximum amount that an employee is permitted to contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account (“FSA”) from $5,000 to $10,500 (or from $2,500 to $5,250 for a married person filing a separate return) for the taxable year beginning in 2021. The increased dependent care FSA limit is an optional change that a plan sponsor may choose to incorporate into its dependent care program included under its cafeteria plan. This change, combined with the change under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”), which authorizes a cafeteria plan to permit participants to make prospective changes to their dependent care FSA contributions (see our prior blog post regarding the CAA here), allows participants to increase contributions to their dependent care FSAs in 2021. In order to implement the new dependent care FSA limit, the… Continue Reading

Severe Winter Storm Hardship Withdrawal Relief

The safe harbor rules for hardship withdrawals from a retirement plan permit such withdrawals for expenses and losses incurred by a participant due to a natural disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, provided the participant’s principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance related to that disaster. FEMA issued a series of disaster declarations as a result of the February 2021 winter storms that impacted portions of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. A list of counties that have been designated by FEMA for individual assistance in those states can be found on FEMA’s website here. Those disaster declarations mean that affected participants may be eligible for hardship distributions from their 401(k) plan accounts. Plan sponsors with participants who live or work… 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.

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

We will begin providing periodic updates on upcoming benefit compliance and/or plan amendment deadlines so that you can add them to your to-do list. Each deadline will have links to our prior blog posts that provide more detailed information about that subject.  As of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (“NQTLs”) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits must make available to federal agencies, upon request, a comparative analysis of the design and application of NQTLs, including the specific findings and conclusions reached by the plan and any results of the comparative analysis that indicate the plan is or is not in compliance. For more information, please read our blog post here.

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