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IRS Introduces Pre-Examination Compliance Pilot Program

Starting this month, when the IRS selects a tax-qualified retirement plan for examination, it will notify the plan sponsor by letter and provide the sponsor a 90-day window to review the plan document and operations for compliance with all plan qualification requirements.   If the sponsor’s review reveals any operational or documentary failures that would otherwise qualify for self-correction under the IRS’s Employee Plan Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”), the sponsor will have the opportunity to self-correct those mistakes. If the plan sponsor’s review reveals any operational or documentary failures that, absent the examination, would require correction under the voluntary correction program (“VCP”) component of EPCRS, the sponsor can request a closing agreement, and the IRS will use the VCP fee structure to determine the sanction amount the sponsor will pay under the closing agreement.  The sponsor must notify the IRS of the errors discovered and the correction within the 90-day window. The… Continue Reading

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment Because ERISA Plan Included Unambiguous Reservation of Rights Language

In Klaas v. Allstate Ins. Co., Allstate sponsored an employee welfare benefit plan subject to ERISA that paid life insurance premiums for certain retirees. Allstate made various representations that this benefit would continue for the remaining lives of the retirees. In 2013, Allstate informed the retirees that it would stop paying their life insurance premiums. The retirees sued alleging Allstate violated ERISA by no longer paying those premiums after making representations that the benefit would continue for a lifetime. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that no ERISA violation occurred because Allstate’s plan documents contained a no-vesting clause and an unambiguous reservation of rights provision that gave Allstate the right to modify or terminate retiree life insurance at any time.  This case is a good reminder to pay careful attention to what insurers and third-party administers put into your plan documents. Unlike retirement plans subject to ERISA,… Continue Reading

New Plan Audit Standards Shift Burdens to Plan Fiduciaries

In an effort to address shortcomings in auditing procedures and reporting raised by the DOL, in July 2019, the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued a revised Statement on Auditing Standards No. 136 entitled, “Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA” (“SAS 136”). SAS 136 applies to plan financial statement periods ending on or after December 15, 2021. The updated audit standards imposed by SAS 136 add new audit procedures and significantly shift the burden for producing many plan-related documents to the plan sponsor. The new requirements will make it essential for plan sponsors to be able to produce quality, error-free records that demonstrate compliance in areas like compensation, deferrals, distributions, and vendors’ fees. Even before these new standards went into effect, it was often difficult for plan sponsors to produce such documentation, particularly when it… Continue Reading

IRS Releases FAQs on Rehiring Retirees and Retaining Employees After Retirement Age

As employers around the country struggle with labor shortages, many are turning to former employees who retired to fill in the gaps. The IRS recently released two FAQs on plan distributions related to concerns with the rehiring of retirees and the retention of employees who have reached their retirement age. Generally, for plans that do not permit in-service distributions, benefit distributions to an individual may only commence when the individual has a bona fide retirement. The FAQs state that rehiring an individual who already experienced a bona fide retirement will not cause such retirement to no longer be considered “bona fide” if the rehiring was due to unforeseen circumstances that do not reflect any prearrangement to rehire. Thus, if a plan’s terms permit, benefit distributions can continue after the rehire. The FAQs also state that plans may generally permit in-service distributions for employees who have reached age 59½ or the… Continue Reading

Retirement Plan Cybersecurity—Truth, Justice, and the DOL Way

At a time when digital security and cyberattacks are key concerns for individuals and businesses alike, plan sponsors and other plan fiduciaries have a key role to play in protecting retirement plan assets and data. Otherwise known as “responsible plan fiduciaries,” these individuals and certain plan service providers have a fiduciary duty to ensure there is a robust cybersecurity program in place to keep plan assets and data secure. As we previously reported on our blog here, the DOL recently issued guidance in this arena to keep employers and plan fiduciaries compliant. The DOL is now specifically targeting employers and plan fiduciaries who fail to adequately protect employee retirement plan assets from hackers and cyberthieves, so the time to act is before the DOL issues a plan audit and before participants are victimized by cybercriminals or hackers. The DOL requires that plan fiduciaries responsible for prudently selecting and monitoring service… 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

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

A recent federal district court case,?áAnastos 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?ÇÖs 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

Guidance on Investment Advice Exemption

The DOL?ÇÖs Employee Benefits Security Administration (the ?Ç£EBSA?Ç¥) recently released additional guidance on PTE 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers and Retirees, a new prohibited transaction exemption under ERISA that was adopted on December 18, 2020 (the ?Ç£Exemption?Ç¥) (see our prior blog posts about the Exemption here and here). The guidance consists of two documents: (i) a publication titled ?Ç£Choosing the Right Person to Give You Investment Advice: Information for Investors in Retirement Plans and Individual Retirement Accounts?Ç¥ (the ?Ç£Investor Guidance?Ç¥), and (ii) a publication titled ?Ç£New Fiduciary Advice Exemption: PTE 2020-02 Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees Frequently Asked Questions?Ç¥ (the ?Ç£Advisor Guidance?Ç¥). The Investor Guidance provides information on the Exemption for investors and includes a list of questions for investors to ask their investment advice providers, as well as a list of investor-focused FAQs. The Advisor Guidance is compliance focused and includes a list of FAQs targeted… Continue Reading

ARPA Relaxes Funding Requirements for Single Employer Defined Benefit Pension Plans

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

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the ?Ç£Statement?Ç¥), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued ?Ç£Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments?Ç¥ final rule (the ?Ç£ESG Rule?Ç¥) and the ?Ç£Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights?Ç¥ final rule (the ?Ç£Proxy Voting Rule?Ç¥, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the ?Ç£Final Rules?Ç¥). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of ?Ç£pecuniary factors,?Ç¥ and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary?ÇÖs obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

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