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Penalty Amounts Adjusted Again!

Penalty Amounts Adjusted Again!

January 27, 2017

Authored by: benefitsbclp

PenaltyLast week, the Department of Labor (DOL) released adjusted penalty amounts which are effective for penalties assessed on or after January 13, 2017, whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015.  You might remember that these penalties were just adjusted effective August 1, 2016 (also for violations which occurred after November 2, 2015); however, the DOL is required by law to release adjusted penalties every year by January 15th, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see these amounts rise again next year.

All of the adjusted penalties are published in the Federal Register, but we’ve listed a few of the updated penalty amounts under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) for you below:

General Penalties

  • For a failure to file a 5500, the penalty will be $2,097 per day (up from $2,063).
  • If you don’t provide documents and information requested by the DOL, the penalty will be $149 per day (up from $147), up to a maximum penalty of $1,496 per request (up from $1,472).
  • A failure to provide reports to certain former participants or failure to maintain records to determine their benefits remained stable at $28 per employee.

Pension and Retirement

  • A failure to provide a blackout notice will be subject to a $133 per day per participant penalty (up

Using Public Policy to Create IRA Irony

Using Public Policy to Create IRA Irony

October 26, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

confusionYou might recall that the Department of Labor (DOL) took the position earlier this year that it had to protect individual retirement accounts and annuities as well as IRA owners by extending certain ERISA protections to them. In its promulgation of the amended investment advice regulation (otherwise known as the fiduciary rule) and the related prohibited transaction exemptions, it extended its reach deep into parts of the individual retirement plan structure where it had not ventured before.  (Its authority to do so is presently the subject of numerous lawsuits.)   It did so contending that public policy requires it to protect the IRAs and IRA owners from its perceived conflicts of interest emanating from the investment advisory and sales arms of financial services organizations.

Now, the DOL has done an about face, seemingly in furtherance of a different public policy goal. The policy this time is to enhance savings opportunities for American workers who do not have access to ERISA-protected employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans.  By creating a “safe harbor” that allows states to mandate payroll deduction IRAs for these workers, the DOL fails to provide the protections afforded by ERISA to participants in these State-sponsored IRA plans (other than, presumably, the investment advice rule).  The irony (and intellectual inconsistency) is patent:  IRAs are important enough to be caught within the ambit of

IRS Overhauls the Retirement Plan Correction Program

IRS Overhauls the Retirement Plan Correction Program

October 20, 2016

Authored by: Katharine Finley and benefitsbclp

old-way-new-wayWith the looming end of the determination letter program as we know it, the IRS has issued an updated Revenue Procedure for the Employee Plans Compliance Resolutions System (EPCRS). Released on September 29, 2016, Rev. Proc. 2016-51 updates the EPCRS procedures, replaces Rev. Proc. 2013-12 and integrates the changes provided in Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28. The updated revenue procedure is effective January 1, 2017 and its provisions cannot be used until that date. Rev. Proc. 2013-12, as modified by Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28, should be used for any corrections under the EPCRS for the remainder of 2016. Highlights from the new revenue procedure are outlined below.

Changes

  • Determination Letter Applications. Determination letter applications are no longer required to be submitted as part of corrections that include plan amendments. The new revenue procedure also clarifies that any compliance statement for a correction through plan amendment will not constitute a determination that the plan amendment satisfies the qualification requirements.
  • Favorable Letter Requirements. A qualified individually designed plan submitted under the Self Correction Program (SCP) will still satisfy the Favorable Letter requirement when correcting significant failures even if its determination letter is out of date.
  • Fees. The Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) fees are now user fees. Effective January 1, 2017 a plan sponsor must refer to the annual Employee

IRS Issues Drafts of Forms 1094-C, 1095-B and 1095-C for 2016

August 19, 2016

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IRS Issues Drafts of Forms 1094-C, 1095-B and 1095-C for 2016

August 19, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

FormLast month, the IRS issued proposed changes to the ACA reporting and disclosure forms for 2016. As a reminder, Forms 1094-B and 1095-B are used by insurance providers to report on the number of individuals enrolled in health care coverage during a tax year, while Forms 1094-C and 1095-C are used by Applicable Large Employers (“ALEs”) to report on the health insurance coverage which they must offer to all their full-time employees during a tax year. We previously discussed the forms in depth here, here and here.

The drafts are subject to change, but we have provided some highlights of the proposed changes below.

Form 1094-C

  • Line 22, Box B is now “Reserved.” The Qualifying Offer Method Transition Relief was only available for 2015 coverage and is not applicable for 2016.
  • “Section 4980H” has been inserted before “Full-Time Employee Count for ALE Member” in Part III, column B in an apparent attempt to distinguish a “full-time employee” for ACA purposes from a “full-time employee” as defined in the plans and policies of an ALE.

Form 1095-B

  • Line 9 is now “Reserved.” On the 2015 version of the form, this line was to report the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace identifier, if applicable, but should have been left blank according to the 2015 instructions.
  • The draft instructions provide that

The Contraceptive Saga Continues

August 5, 2016

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The Contraceptive Saga Continues

August 5, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

BC PillsIn Zubik v. Burwell, the justices vacated and remanded six federal appellate judgements on whether an accommodation (described below) for employers with religious objections to providing coverage for some or all contraception under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) preventive services coverage mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  The Court took no position on the merits and stated that the parties should have the opportunity to find an approach that accommodates the petitioners’ religious exercise and ensures that women covered by the petitioners’ health plans receive full coverage for preventive care.   Essentially, as the Court awaits confirmation of a 9th justice they decided to kick the can down the proverbial road.

Enter the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Treasury, the agencies responsible for implementation of the ACA. On July 21, 2016, they released a “request for information” (RFI) intended to provide all interested stakeholders an opportunity to comment on several specific issues raised by the supplemental briefing and Supreme Court decision in Zubik v. Burwell.  Broadly, the RFI asks for suggestions on ways to further accommodate objections by religious non-profits to furnishing their employees coverage for some or all contraceptive services in their health plans.

Under the current accommodation, employers that object to providing contraceptives to their employees for religious reasons may either:

  1. Self-certify their objection (EBSA Form 700) to their

IRS Issues Clarification on Phased Retirement Payments

IRS Issues Clarification on Phased Retirement Payments

July 5, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Part-time and full-time job working businessman business man conceptTypically, when a participant receives annuity payments from a defined benefit pension plan where he or she has a basis in the benefit (what Code Section 72 calls an “investment in the contract”), a portion of the payment is treated as a recovery of that basis. Therefore, it is not taxable to the participant.  That portion is determined under the rules of Code Section 72.  The most common way in which an employee has basis in his or her benefit is by making after-tax contributions.  Currently, this is more common in governmental defined benefit plans than other plans.

However, it was not clear how these basis recovery rules worked in the context of phased retirement distributions. The IRS recently issued Notice 2016-39 to address the treatment of payments made by a qualified defined benefit pension plan to an employee during phased retirement.  Phased retirement is the period during which an employee begins to take distributions of a portion of his or her retirement benefits from a plan while continuing to work on a part-time basis.  During these periods, it may be difficult for the plan to do the typical calculation under Code Section 72.  Additionally, the employee may be continuing to accrue additional benefits, which would further complicate the calculation.

The Notice provides that if certain conditions are met, the payments will not be considered

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act May Affect Employee Benefits

200270748-001The United States Department of Labor recently issued a Final Rule updating the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) that includes an increase in the standard salary level and that will take effect December 1, 2016. Under the FLSA, certain employees may be exempted from overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week if their job duties primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties and their salary is equal to or greater than the required salary levels.

Among other changes made by the Final Rule, the threshold salary levels have been dramatically increased and will continue to be automatically updated every three years in the future. Prior to the Final Rule, the standard salary level was $455/week or $23,660/year.  As of December 1, 2016, the standard salary level will be $913/week or $47,476/year.  Highly compensated employees are subject to a less stringent job duties test than lower compensated employees; the salary threshold for highly compensated employees was $100,000 and will increase to $134,004.

The Final Rule also revises prior FLSA regulations by permitting up to ten percent (10%) of the salary thresholds to be met with nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive compensation (including commissions).

Employers may face many other decisions in addition to whether to increase pay or limit overtime hours as a result of the Final Rule. Many employers offer certain benefits, like long-term disability or paid

Exceptional Plan Governance: Beat Back the Coming Litigation Onslaught

Gavel and ScalesIt was bound to happen. For several years, the plaintiffs’ bar has sued fiduciaries of large 401(k) plans asserting breach of their duties under ERISA by failing to exercise requisite prudence in permitting excessive administrative and investment fees.  It may be that the plaintiffs’ bar has come close to exhausting the low-hanging lineup of potential large plan defendants, and, if a recent case is any indication, the small and medium-sized plan fiduciaries are the next target.  See, Damberg v. LaMettry’s Collision Inc., et al. The allegations in this class action case parallel those that have been successful in the large plan fee dispute cases. Now that the lid is off, small and medium sized plan fiduciaries should be forewarned of the need to employ solid plan governance to avoid, or at least well defend, a suit aimed at them.

Exceptional plan governance means that, at a minimum, plan sponsors (and designated fiduciaries) should consider the following items to help demonstrate that they are primarily operating their plans to the benefit of participants and their beneficiaries and then to reduce liability exposure for themselves:

  • Understand and exercise procedural prudence – process, process, process
  • Identify plan fiduciaries and know their roles and duties
  • Seek and obtain fiduciary training for all plan fiduciaries
  • Adopt a proper plan committee charter or similar document
  • Appoint fiduciaries and retain service providers prudently

IRS Stamp of Approval for PEOs

IRS Stamp of Approval for PEOs

May 19, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

CertifiedSmall businesses struggling to maintain compliance with the constant flow of regulations impacting human resources and benefits compliance have increasingly turned to professional employer organizations (“PEOs”) to serve as payroll agent or, in some circumstances, co-employer of their employees.  On May 4, 2016, the IRS released temporary and proposed regulations that implement a new voluntary certification program for PEOs.

The application process for becoming certified will open on July 1st.  A revenue procedure further detailing the application process will be released in next several weeks, after which time the IRS will publish lists of certified PEOs (CPEOs).  The IRS welcomes public comment on these regulations – the deadline for submissions is August 4th.

Requirements to become a CPEO appear quite demanding.  A PEO applicant along with the PEO’s “responsible individuals” (including certain owners, directors, officers, and individuals with ultimate responsibility for managing the PEO) must submit an application to the IRS and satisfy certification requirements.

In addition to satisfying the certification requirements, PEOs must meet these requirements on an ongoing basis after becoming certified.  If they do not, a CPEO may have their certified status revoked or suspended, in which case the IRS will make this information available to the public and the CPEO will have to notify their clients.

To submit an application, a PEO applicant must permit the IRS to investigate its statements and submissions.  Each of the PEO’s

Keeping Your (Top) Hat On

Keeping Your (Top) Hat On

April 27, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Top Hat“Top hat” plans are plans employers maintain for a “select group of management or highly compensated employees.” These plans are exempt from many of ERISA’s protections, including eligibility, vesting, fiduciary responsibility and funding. Thus, they are often used to provide benefits to management employees over and above those provided under the company’s broad-based retirement plans.

Choosing which employees may participate in a “top hat” plan is an important decision, as selecting employees who are ineligible for this type of arrangement may lead to violations of ERISA, penalties, increased taxes, and other liabilities. For years companies, courts, and even the Department of Labor (DOL) have struggled with defining the group of employees who can participate in a “top hat” plan. Two recent federal court cases provide insight into the current state of the law and the factors courts consider when assessing “top hat” status.

In Bond v. Marriott International, Inc., Nos. 15-1160, 15-1199 (4th Cir. 2016) (Unpublished Opinion), the Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiff’s claims were time barred, thus avoiding a decision on whether Marriott’s deferred stock bonus awards program was a “top hat” plan. The Maryland district court, however, had determined that the plan was indeed a “top hat” plan (Bond v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., 296 F.R.D. 403 (D. Md. 2014). Former employees of Marriott asserted that a retirement awards program was not a “top hat” plan

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