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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 Further Extends Temporary Relief from Physical Presence Requirement for Certain Retirement Plan Consents

As we previously reported here, in June 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-42 (available here) which provided temporary relief from the physical presence requirements for certain participant and beneficiary elections under qualified retirement plans. The IRS recently issued an advance version of Notice 2021-40 (available here) which extends the temporary relief for an additional year, through June 30, 2022. Under this extended relief, participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a notary public will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if remote notarization is done through live audio-video technology that otherwise satisfies the requirements of Treasury Regulations ?º 1.401(a)-21(d)(6) and is compliant with state law applicable to notaries. Participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if (i) the person signing the participant… 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

Voluntary Correction Program Applications ?Çô Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (?Ç£VCP?Ç¥) 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?á 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 ?Çô If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… 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

Ordinary Employee Benefits Issues That Can Cause Extraordinary Problems in M&A Deals

Employee benefits rarely drive corporate transactions, but if the benefits of a target company are not reviewed carefully, they can sometimes derail the transaction.  Even some of the most routine facets of benefit plan administration can result in significant potential financial exposure (e.g., additional employer contributions, taxes, penalties, and fees as well as fees associated with the preparation and filing of IRS and DOL correction program applications) that could negatively affect the overall value of the target company. By identifying issues early in the transaction, the seller can prevent costly purchase price reductions and identify issues that need correction, while the buyer can avoid overpaying for a target and ensure that representation and warranty insurance will be available to cover potential claims. Some of those routine compliance issues include, but are not limited to, the following: Failing to timely file an annual Form 5500.  The DOL can assess a penalty… Continue Reading

Last Day for Coronavirus-Related Distributions is December 30, 2020

As a reminder, the last day that coronavirus-related distributions may be made from an eligible retirement plan to a qualified individual is December 30, 2020, and not December 31, 2020.?á Distributions may be included in income ratably over the 2020, 2021, and 2022 tax years or, if the participant elects, may be included entirely in income in 2020.?á For more information on coronavirus-related distributions, please see the IRS FAQs here.

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