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

Last week?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖs project incentive bonus plan?Çöwhich pays a single bonus payment to employees who are laid off or complete their roles in a specific project?Çöconstituted 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?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖ 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 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥), 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 (?Ç£FSA?Ç¥) 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 (?Ç£CAA?Ç¥), 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 (?Ç£FEMA?Ç¥) under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, provided the participant?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖs 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

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.?á As of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (?Ç£NQTLs?Ç¥) 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.

Required Minimum Distributions: A Tragedy in Three Acts

The SECURE Act and CARES Act made significant changes to required minimum distributions (?Ç£RMDs?Ç¥). What should you be doing to ensure your retirement plans are administered correctly? The first step is to understand your options. SECURE Act Shifts the Start Before the SECURE Act, RMDs had to begin by April 1st of the calendar year following the later of (i) the calendar year during which the participant retires or (ii) the calendar year in which the participant turns age 70??.?á Following the passage of the SECURE Act, the age cutoff in that rule changed from age 70?? to age 72, but only for individuals who turned age 70?? on or after January 1, 2020 (i.e., individuals born on or after July 1, 1949). In short, those terminated vested participants born before July 1, 1949 had to start their RMDs by April 1 of the year after turning 70??, while those… Continue Reading

Plan Record Retention Considerations in Corporate Transactions

As we?ÇÖve previously reported here, there are a number of record retention requirements applicable to employee benefit plans. Plan sponsors should be mindful of the impact and application of these requirements in the context of corporate mergers and acquisitions, especially if assets of the target?ÇÖs retirement plan are to be merged into the buyer?ÇÖs plan. When acquiring a company that sponsors (or has sponsored) its own retirement plan, plan sponsors should consider: Protected Benefits. Though the buyer?ÇÖs plan may be amended to protect certain benefits under the target?ÇÖs plan, as required by the Internal Revenue Code, in many cases the plan sponsor will need to refer to the target?ÇÖs actual plan document to fully understand the specifics of the protected benefits. Missing Participants. The DOL recently issued a memorandum outlining best practices for pension plans to avoid and resolve missing participant issues (we previously discussed this issue here). Included in… Continue Reading

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?ÇÖs 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 ?º107) and to maintain records for each employee sufficient to determine the benefits due or that may become due to such employee (ERISA ?º209), 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?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖs (?Ç£PBGC?Ç¥) Defined Contribution Missing Participants Program for terminating defined contribution plans. Under the temporary enforcement policy, the DOL will not pursue violations under ERISA?ÇÖs 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

Future Updates on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

We previously provided an overview of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) and the specific benefits changes employers need to focus on right now, which can be found here. There were numerous other provisions of the CAA that will impact retirement and group health plans. As the effective dates for those other provisions approach, we will provide you with a summary of the new provisions and how they may impact your plans.

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 ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) 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?ÇÖs participants are terminated in a plan year. If a partial plan termination occurs, then the plan is required to 100% vest any ?Ç£affected employees?Ç¥. ?Ç£Affected employees?Ç¥ are… Continue Reading

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