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Are Your Voluntary Benefits Programs Subject to ERISA?

An issue that many employers face is whether their so-called “voluntary benefits programs” should be considered ERISA plans. Voluntary benefits programs are characterized by employee-only paid premiums and limited employer involvement in a fully insured product. For the benefits provided under such a voluntary benefits insurance policy to be exempt from ERISA, the employer’s involvement in administering the policy must satisfy the requirements set out in the ERISA safe harbor regulation, as interpreted by the DOL and various courts. Generally, such a program will be exempt from ERISA if (i) there are no employer contributions toward coverage, (ii) participation in the program is completely voluntary, (iii) the employer does not endorse the program, and (iv) the employer receives no consideration for the program.  A recent case decided by a federal district court in Kentucky applied the above principles to determine whether a voluntary accidental death insurance policy was subject to… Continue Reading

Benefit Compliance Tip: Be Sure to Sign on the Dotted Line

Benefit plan administration can be complicated and challenging, but sometimes it is not the complex issues that cause the biggest problems; it’s the simplest, such as remembering to ensure plan documents and amendments are actually signed. Far too often, when new plans or plan amendments are adopted, the board or a plan committee will adopt resolutions approving the new plan or amendment, but the actual documents are never signed. Unfortunately, this area of non-compliance may go unnoticed until an IRS or DOL audit or the sale of the plan sponsor, where signed documents are requested but the plan sponsor cannot find them. To avoid being caught with unsigned plan documents, plans sponsors should: Adopt procedures so that immediately after new plans or amendments are adopted, the documents are signed and dated by an authorized signer; After documents are signed, maintain the executed documents in an easy to find location, and… Continue Reading

As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)

The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading

IRS Explains Certain Plans Retroactively Adopted After the End of Plan Year Are Not Required to File a Form 5500 for 2020

The IRS recently explained in an announcement that certain retirement plans adopted after the close of the employer’s taxable year will not be required to file a Form 5500 for 2020. Specifically, under the SECURE Act, an employer may adopt a retirement plan after the close of the employer’s taxable year (by the due date, including extensions, for filing its tax return for the taxable year) and elect to treat the plan as having been adopted as of the last day of the taxable year. This provision of the SECURE Act only applies to plans adopted for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019. In its announcement, the IRS explained that if an employer adopted a plan during the employer’s 2021 taxable year, by the specified deadline, and elected to treat the plan as having been adopted as of the last day of the employer’s 2020 taxable year, then the… Continue Reading

New COBRA Subsidy Guidance Addresses Outstanding Issues

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-46 (the “Notice”), which provides new guidance in the form of FAQs regarding the application of the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “COBRA Subsidy”). The Notice supplements the IRS’s prior Notice 2021-31 regarding the COBRA Subsidy and addresses additional matters. Issues addressed in the Notice include, among others, (i) the availability of the COBRA Subsidy in situations where an individual is entitled to notify the plan administrator, but has not yet done so, of his or her eligibility for an extended COBRA coverage period due to a disability determination or the occurrence of a second COBRA qualifying event, (ii) the loss of an individual’s entitlement to the COBRA Subsidy with respect to dental and vision coverage when he or she becomes eligible to enroll in other group health plan coverage or Medicare that does not provide dental… Continue Reading

DOL Rules that Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations with Plan?ÇÖs Insurer may have to be Disclosed

The DOL recently issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 addressing whether the claims procedure regulations under ERISA require plan fiduciaries to provide, upon request, the audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between a claimant and a representative of the plan?ÇÖs insurer relating to an adverse benefit determination. The claims regulations under ERISA provide that a document, record, or other information is relevant to a claim for benefits, and therefore must be provided to a claimant upon request, if it (i) ?Ç£was submitted, considered, or generated in the course of making the benefit determination, without regard to whether such document, record, or other information was relied upon in making the benefit determination?Ç¥ or (ii) ?Ç£demonstrates compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards.?Ç¥ The DOL concluded that a recording or transcript of a conversation between a claimant and a plan?ÇÖs insurer would not be excluded from the ERISA disclosure requirements on the… Continue Reading

Nothing in Life is Free ?Çô ERISA Expense Account Considerations

Many 401(k) plans contain spending accounts funded by revenue-sharing generated by a plan?ÇÖs mutual fund holdings. These accounts, often referred to as ERISA expense accounts, revenue-sharing accounts, or plan expense reimbursement accounts, can cause complications for plans if not administered properly. These revenue-sharing accounts can accumulate quickly, and in large plans, can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, plan sponsors often do not know that the accounts are accumulating, and when they find them, may think they have just discovered ?Ç£free money.?Ç¥ But nothing in life is free, and missteps with the use of these funds could result in participant claims. Accordingly, before utilizing these funds, plan sponsors should use care and consider the following questions: Are the funds being held in the trust??áDOL Advisory Opinion 2013-03A (which is available here) noted that revenue sharing payments that were being received by the third party administrator prior… Continue Reading

IRS Publishes Updated Operational Compliance Checklist

The IRS recently updated its Operational Compliance Checklist (the ?Ç£Checklist?Ç¥) to include qualification requirements that will become effective during the 2021 and 2022 calendar years. Examples of items added to the Checklist for 2021 and 2022 include, among other things: Final regulations relating to updated life expectancy and distribution tables used for determining minimum required distributions; The SECURE Act requirement that qualified cash or deferred arrangements must allow long-term employees (i.e., employees who work at least 500 but less than 1,000 hours per year for three consecutive 12-month periods beginning on or after January 1, 2021) to participate; and Temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for spousal consents under qualified retirement plans. The Checklist is only available online and is updated periodically to reflect new legislation and IRS guidance. The Checklist does not, however, include routine, periodic changes, such as cost-of-living increases, spot segment rates, and applicable mortality tables,… Continue Reading

IRS Releases Additional FAQs on Partial Plan Terminations

During the pandemic, many employers laid off and terminated employees as businesses shut-down and then rehired employees when businesses reopened. Employers who sponsored retirement plans and incurred these fluctuations in their workforce risked that the layoffs and terminations could trigger partial retirement plan terminations, which would require 100% vesting of affected participants. Whether a partial plan termination has occurred is generally based on the facts and circumstances, but there is a rebuttable presumption that a partial plan termination has occurred if 20% or more of a plan?ÇÖs active participants have had an employer-initiated termination within a given plan year. In September of 2020, the IRS issued FAQs to clarify that when an employee was terminated and rehired within 2020, they would not be counted for purposes of determining whether a partial plan termination occurred (we reported on this guidance here). Section 209 of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief… Continue Reading

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?ÇÖs 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

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