‘Tis the Season: Four Year-End Employee Benefit Plan Checklists

Each year, we publish health and welfare, cost-of-living, executive compensation, and qualified retirement plan checklists to help individuals and employers stay apprised of updates to the law of employee benefits.  We recently published the last of these annual checklists.  In case you missed them, the links are below.

Happy holidays!

2020 End of Year Plan Sponsor “To Do” List (Part 1) Health & Welfare

2020 End of Year Plan Sponsor “To Do” List (Part 2) Annual Cost of Living Adjustments

2020 End of Year Plan Sponsor “To Do” List (Part 3) Executive Compensation

2020 End of Year Plan Sponsor “To Do” List (Part 4) Qualified Retirement Plans 

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With a New Administration, Will the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule Once Again be Revised?

The Department of Labor’s (the “DOL”) attempts to regulate the conduct of fiduciaries under ERISA and the Code has been mired in controversy.  In 2010, the Obama administration’s DOL proposed a fiduciary regulation that was met with so much criticism that it was subsequently withdrawn in 2011.  In 2015, the DOL re-proposed a fiduciary regulation that imposed a fiduciary standard on financial advisors giving clients advice about their retirement plan investments.  The DOL issued final regulations and the final rule was being implemented when it was struck down by a federal appeals court in June 2018.

In June 2020, the DOL proposed a new fiduciary rule which significantly revises the Obama administration fiduciary rule.  Read More ›

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Is Your Safe Harbor Section 401(k) Plan Required to Provide an Annual Notice?

Sponsors of safe harbor Section 401(k) plans should consider whether they are required to provide their annual safe harbor notice in 2020 for the upcoming 2021 plan year.  The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement (“SECURE”) Act, which was enacted on December 20, 2019, changed the annual notice requirements for some safe harbor Section 401(k) plans.

Prior to the SECURE Act, safe harbor Section 401(k) plans were required to meet certain annual notice requirements regardless of whether they relied on matching or nonelective contributions to satisfy the safe harbor requirement.  The Internal Revenue Code requires that this annual safe harbor notice be provided to participants within a reasonable period before the beginning of the plan year.  Read More ›

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Final DOL Rule Imposes Fiduciary Limitations on Social Investing

The DOL recently issued a final rule (“Rule”) providing guidance on the long-standing issue of whether ERISA fiduciaries are permitted to consider non-pecuniary factors while making investments (or selecting investment funds) that promote one or more environmental, social or corporate governance goals (so called “ESG Investments”).  The preamble to the Rule acknowledges that ERISA fiduciaries must act solely in the interest of plan participants/beneficiaries and that courts have consistently interpreted this interest to refer to pecuniary, rather than non-pecuniary benefits.

Prior DOL ESG Investment guidance also required ERISA fiduciaries to place financial returns over other non-financial goals and prohibited a fiduciary from subordinating the interests of participants/beneficiaries in their retirement income to “unrelated objectives.”  However, the DOL previously stated that, when comparing ESG and non-ESG investments, if the financial returns were comparable, it was not a breach of fiduciary duty to select the ESG Investment.  Read More ›

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Finally, Some Good News: IRS Extends Certain ACA Reporting Deadlines and Transition Relief

As in prior years, the IRS has provided relief for employers preparing to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) information reporting requirements in early 2021 for the 2020 calendar year. In particular, Notice 2020-76 (the “Notice”) extends the deadline to furnish Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to employees. The new deadlines are provided, below.

Original Deadline Extended Deadline
Form 1095-B (to employees) January 31, 2021 March 2, 2021
Form 1095-C (to employees) January 31, 2021 March 2, 2021

Importantly, the Notice does not extend the deadline for filing Forms with the IRS.  Instead, the deadline to file with the IRS remains February 28, 2021 (for paper filings) and March 31, 2021 (for electronic filings). Read More ›

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IRS Confirms Major Disaster Leave-Sharing Program Use for COVID-19 Pandemic

On August 3, 2020, the IRS posted a short set of frequently asked questions for leave-sharing programs which confirm that major disaster leave-sharing programs under IRS Notice 2006-59 can be used for employees who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a reminder, major disaster leave-sharing programs under Notice 2006-59 permit employees to donate paid leave to their co-workers who are adversely affected by a “major disaster.”  When properly structured, the donated leave is excluded from the gross income of the donor and included in the gross income of the recipient.  President Trump has declared major disasters due to COVID-19 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Read More ›

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IRS Approves Additional Leave-Based Donation Programs for COVID-19 Relief

We previously posted about two leave-sharing programs available to employers during the COVID-19 pandemic: major disaster leave-sharing programs and medical emergency leave-sharing programs.  These leave-sharing programs may allow employees to donate paid leave to co-workers affected by COVID-19.  When properly structured under Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) guidance, the donated leave is excluded from the gross income of the donor employee. 

On June 11, 2020, the IRS published Notice 2020-46, which permits employers to establish an additional type of leave-sharing program: a leave-based donation program under which employees can donate vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer makes to a charitable organization described in Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) Section 170(c) (a “Section 170(c) Organization”). Read More ›

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Department of Labor Issues Final Electronic Disclosure Rule

On May 21, 2020, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) announced a final rule establishing a new electronic disclosure safe harbor.  The new safe harbor permits retirement plan administrators to deliver certain plan documents by one of two methods: (1) a “Notice and Access” method; or (2) a direct email method.  The new safe harbor is unavailable to health and welfare plans.  The regulatory electronic delivery safe harbor established by the DOL in 2002 is not superseded by the new safe harbor and is still available as an option for plan sponsors.  A brief summary of the new safe harbor follows. Read More ›

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In Case You Missed It … Recent Posts From the SW Benefits Update

We periodically consolidate our prior blog posts and push them out as a single package to help individuals catch up on what they might have missed with respect to important health and welfare, qualified retirement plan, and executive compensation issues.  The posts highlighted here largely focus on the CARES Act and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on employee benefit and executive compensation plans.  As always, please feel free to reach out to any member of our employee benefits and executive compensation group with questions.  Please enjoy (and have a safe) Memorial Day weekend!

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CARES Act Enables Employers to Assist with Student Loan Repayments

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27, 2020, provides employers with a new mechanism to assist their employees with repayment of student loans. Section 2206 of the CARES Act amends Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) to allow employers to pay up to $5,250 toward qualified education loans as part of an educational assistance program as long as the payments are made before January 1, 2021. Employers can make payments either directly to the employee or to a lender.

Section 127 provides that amounts paid or expenses incurred by employers under an educational assistance program for the educational assistance of employees are not included in the employee’s gross income, provided that the program satisfies the following requirements:

  1. The program must be a separate written plan of the employer for the exclusive benefit of its employees to provide such employees with educational assistance. 
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