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BCLP Benefits Mid-Year 2020 Newsletter: Q2 2020 COVID-19 and Additional Regulatory Guidance

July 21, 2020

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In the second quarter of 2020, we have seen employers faced with continued challenges as they manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses and begin the process of returning to normal operations. The flurry of regulatory guidance from governmental agencies responsible for employee benefit plan oversight that began earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) also has continued unabated. In addition, the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service have also been busy releasing guidance unrelated to COVID-19.

In this newsletter, we have provided summaries of five of these items – three related to COVID-19 and the fifth summarizing the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final electronic disclosure rule.  In addition to these longer summaries, we have also included short notes describing the additional guidance that has been released.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

To read a copy of the newsletter, please click here.

U.S. Companies Assess Ripple Impact of COVID-19 on their Business and Incentive Plan Metrics

As we near the end of second quarter 2020, companies are evaluating the ripple effect COVID-19 has had and will likely continue to have on their businesses as a result of worker layoffs, shelter-in-place orders, employee health and safety matters, supply chain and counterparty risk issues and decreased product demand, among other things.

One key area of focus for many companies and compensation committees will be assessing the impact of COVID-19 on incentive plan performance award targets, many of which were set in February before the pandemic hit the United States and may now be unattainable. Most companies will want to keep their executive and management teams striving for potentially new and adjusted goals that the new environment requires. How to go about reflecting and rewarding key employees for performance around these changes becomes challenging when awards for the performance period have already been granted.

Some companies have viewed their performance awards as long-term in nature and have maintained existing performance targets in spite of changed circumstances. Others see a need for changes. The approaches will depend on each company’s particular compensation philosophy and structure, the amounts and types of awards that have been granted, the extent and manner in which the business and existing targets have been affected, and other motivating criteria at issue.

On approach that companies have considered in connection with their annual awards is to adjust the performance targets based on currently available information so as to reflect changing expectations. This approach is relatively straightforward. A

COVID-19: Highlights from the IRS FAQs on Emergency Paid Sick and Family Leave Tax Credits for U.S.-based Small and Mid-sized Employers

We recently summarized the provisions from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) that provide for tax credits for small employers to offset costs associated with paid sick leave and emergency FMLA benefits (see here). The IRS has been compiling a set of FAQs regarding these tax credits, which covers a number of topics. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • To claim the credits, eligible employers will report their total qualified leave wages and the related credits for each quarter on their federal employment tax returns (usually Form 941). In anticipation of the credits, employers may fund qualified leave wages, allocable qualified health plan expenses, and the employer’s share of Medicare tax on the qualified leave wages by either using federal employment taxes the employer has set aside for deposit with the IRS or by requesting an advance from the IRS.
  • To substantiate eligibility for the medical and family leave credits, employers should obtain a statement from the employee requesting leave in which the employee provides:
    • The employee’s name;
    • The date(s) for which leave is requested;
    • A statement that the employee is not able to work (including telework) for that reason.
    • If the leave is requested due to a quarantine order or self-quarantine medical advice, the statement should include the governmental entity ordering quarantine or medical professional advising self-quarantine.
    • If the leave is due to school closing or lack of childcare availability, the statement should include the name(s) and

Additional COVID-19 Extensions = Greater Administrative Headaches for Plan Sponsors

As any employer is keenly aware, the administration of an employee benefit plan (especially a group health plan) involves a number of different deadlines imposed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code).  Amidst concerns that the current COVID-19 pandemic may cause individuals to lose benefits due to the failure to meet certain pre-established deadlines and in recognition of the challenges group health plans may face in complying with certain notice obligations, the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service (collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly published notice in the Federal Register of a significant extension in application of the following statutorily prescribed deadlines:

Special Enrollment Periods

  • 30-day deadline to request enrollment in the event of a loss of eligibility for other health coverage or the acquisition of a new dependent due to marriage, birth, adoption or placement for adoption
  • 60-day deadline to request enrollment in the event of either a loss of eligibility for coverage under Medicaid or a state children’s health insurance coverage (CHIP) or gaining eligibility for premium assistance through Medicaid or CHIP.

COBRA Continuation Coverage

  • 30-day period for employer to notify plan administrator of certain COBRA qualifying events
  • 14-day period for plan administrator to issue COBRA Election Notice to qualified beneficiary
  • 60-day period for qualified beneficiary to elect COBRA continuation coverage
  • 45-day period for qualified beneficiary to submit initial COBRA premium payment
  • 30-day period for qualified beneficiary to submit subsequent COBRA premium payments
  • Qualified beneficiary’s

COVID-19: CARES Act Limits Executive Compensation for U.S. Businesses Participating in CESA Relief

As part of the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act), the Treasury Department will provide loans, loan guarantees, and other investments for U.S. businesses, states, and municipalities dealing with losses incurred as a result of COVID-19.  Among other requirements, businesses that enter into these loan agreements are subject to certain limits on executive compensation during the period beginning on the date the loan agreement is entered into and ending one year after the loan or loan guarantee is no longer outstanding (the “Restriction Period”).  Note that these limits are not applicable to businesses that participate in the small business relief that was also provided under the CARES Act.[1]  More information on the small business relief under the CARES Act can be found here. The rules described below apply to certain specialized industries (passenger air carriers, cargo air carriers, and businesses critical to maintaining national security) as well as other mid-sized businesses in any industry with between 500 and 10,000 employees. The restrictions on executive compensation are as follows:

  • No officer or employee of the business whose total compensation exceeded $425,000 in 2019 (other than an employee whose compensation is determined through an existing collective bargaining agreement entered into prior to March 1, 2020) may receive from the business:
    • Total compensation which exceeds, during any 12 consecutive months of the Restriction Period, the total compensation received by the officer or employee from the business in 2019; or

Unraveling U.S. Retirement Savings – How a Global Pandemic Threatens to Undo Decades of Planning

With the economy in a free-fall and the U.S. government scrambling to create a financial safety net for citizens, giving access to tax-qualified retirement savings was a natural piece of Congress’ plan to loosen the grip on needed funds.  And yet, plan sponsors should pause before adopting the new in-service withdrawal and loan options wholesale.  The options made available under the CARES Act are permissive, not required.  Implementing a thoughtful, needs-based, COVID-19 withdrawal/loan policy could protect employees’ financial security for decades to come.

Plan sponsors can adopt an incremental approach to COVID-19 in-service withdrawals or loans, and should consider doing so in the interest of helping participants not decimate hard-won savings in a panic.

What Options do Plan Sponsors Have?

COVID-WithdrawalsThe CARES Act allows a new category of withdrawals, COVID-19 Distributions, which allows participants to take a withdrawal of the lesser of 100% of their vested account balance or $100K, anytime between January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020, if they satisfy certain requirements. Click here to read our summary of the CARES Act withdrawal rules.

Plan sponsors can design a COVID-19 withdrawal program within the parameters of the CARES Act without allowing the full $100K withdrawal at once – or at all.  The statute does not require that a plan go from 0 to 100!  Further, while the new law allows plan administrators to rely on the representation of participants that they qualify for the in-service withdrawals, plan sponsors can impose any reasonable substantiation

COVID-19: Emergency Leave-Sharing Plans for U.S. Employers

In addition to the paid sick leave and family leave U.S. employers must provide under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), some employers are seeking additional ways to support employees affected by COVID-19. The IRS has published guidance on leave-sharing plans for employees affected by a major disaster or emergency, as declared by the President. President Trump issued such a declaration on March 13 (retroactive to March 1), so this guidance applies to employers who wish to implement an emergency leave-sharing plan at this time.

A major disaster leave-sharing plan as applied to the current COVID-19 emergency is a written plan that meets the following requirements:

  • The plan allows employees to voluntarily deposit accrued leave in an employer-sponsored bank for use by other employees who have been adversely affected by COVID-19. An employee is considered to be adversely affected by a COVID-19 if it has caused severe hardship to the employee or a family member of the employee that requires the employee to be absent from work.
  • The plan does not allow employees to deposit leave for a specific leave recipient.
  • The amount of leave that may be deposited by an employee in any year generally does not exceed the maximum amount of leave that the employee normally accrues in a year. Under this requirement, employees likely cannot donate emergency sick leave provided under the FFCRA.
  • An employee may receive paid leave, at his or her normal rate of compensation, from leave deposited

COVID-19: U.S. Employee Benefit Considerations

March 27, 2020

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COVID-19: U.S. Employee Benefit Considerations

March 27, 2020

Authored by: benefitsbclp

As the Coronavirus continues to spread and businesses face financial challenges, U.S. employers may look to the impact that a temporary reduction in their business has on their existing U.S. employee benefit programs, adjust those benefits to meet the needs of both employers and employees and consider the impact of the newly created obligations under recently enacted and pending federal legislation.  Many employers are grappling with significant reductions in force, the furloughing of employees and/or reducing hours and compensation for employees as a result of this crisis.  All of these consequences significantly impact employee benefit plans and policies.  In addition, employers may need to make temporary or permanent changes to these employee benefit plans and policies.  It is important for employers to review all of their employee benefit plans and policies and service provider contracts to assess the impact these actions may have on employee benefit programs.

With this in mind, we prepared an Alert which includes a summary of issues related to the following areas for you to consider during these uncertain times:

  • Service provider contracts;
  • Emergency paid sick leave, family leave and related tax credits;
  • Health and welfare plans;
  • Qualified retirement plans; and
  • Incentive compensation and non-qualified deferred compensation plans.

Please click here to read the full Alert.

COVID-19: Considerations for U.S. Contributing Employers to Multiemployer Plans

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on business and individuals around the globe, with global financial markets seeing significant drawbacks in March 2020 alone.  That impact has also been felt by U.S. employers who contribute to multiemployer pension plans, as well as the plans themselves.  Below are a few issues that U.S. contributing employers to multiemployer pension plans should keep in mind in these volatile times:

  1. Consequences of Changes in Funded Status. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many multiemployer pension plans were operating in critical or critical and declining funded status, and the market fluctuations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will only exacerbate those funding shortfalls.  Contributing employers should anticipate that those shortfalls may result in additional surcharges becoming payable on their monthly contributions (as a result of the Pension Protection Act of 2006) as well as increased estimates of potential withdrawal liability.
  2. Withdrawal Liability. With many contributing employers implementing layoffs or other workforce reductions, there may be questions as to whether such reductions may result in withdrawal liability under the applicable multiemployer pension plan.  Withdrawal liability is due upon a complete or partial withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan.  A complete withdrawal occurs when a contributing employer permanently ceases all operations covered by the plan or no longer has an obligation to contribute under the plan.  Therefore, layoffs and/or temporary shutdowns should not trigger complete withdrawals unless and until those layoffs and shutdowns become permanent.  Partial withdrawal occurs upon a 70% contribution decline

COVID-19: Mid-Year Changes to 401(k) Plans

U.S. employers looking to reduce operating costs in the short term in response to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may seek to reduce or suspend their matching or nonelective contributions in their 401(k) plan. The following summarizes the key issues facing employers in making the determination to suspend or reduce safe-harbor contributions.

Suspending or Reducing Employer Contributions in Non-Safe-harbor Plans

Discretionary employer matching and nonelective contributions generally may be immediately suspended or reduced through appropriate corporation action.  Employers should consider the following in connection with a suspension or reduction of employer contributions:

  • Does the Plan have Discretionary Employer Contributions?

If the plan does not include provisions setting out a formula or specific amount of employer contributions, the board simply needs to take action to change the amount of the employer matching contribution, which could include suspending the contribution until the board takes further action.

  • Does The Plan have a Set Formula for Determining Matching or Nonelective Contributions?

If the retirement plan or related documents set out a formula for determining the employer contributions (that is, the amount of the contributions are “hard-wired” into the plan), the plan will need to be amended to change the formula.  Companies may also consider removing specific formulas entirely and replacing them with provisions stating that the amount of the employer nonelective or matching contributions is discretionary and will be determining by the board from time to time.

  • When may the Reduction or
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