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Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 4: Getting Paid

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This fourth in our series is about payment-related changes.  See our first three posts, “Firing Squad,” “Taking (and Giving) Stock,” and “Don’t Fear the (409A) Reaper.” Check back for one more post on these regulations.

What’s a Payment?  That’s not merely a philosophical question.  The current regulations use “payment” a great many times, but without definition.  The proposed regulations state that a payment, for 409A purposes, is generally made when a taxable benefit

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 3: Don’t Fear the (409A) Reaper

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This third post is about the death benefit changes.  See our first two posts, “Firing Squad” and “Taking (and Giving) Stock.” Check back for future posts on these regulations.

Accelerated Payments for Beneficiaries. 409A generally allows plans to add death, disability, or unforeseeable emergency as potentially earlier alternative payment dates.  However, this special rule only applied to the service provider.  If the service provider dies, then the payment schedule applicable on the service provider’s death

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 2: Taking (and Giving) Stock

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This second post relates to changes in stock awards and stock sales.  See our first post, “Firing Squad.”  Check back for future posts on these regulations.

Discounted Stock Buybacks Are Now Okay, Sort of. The existing regulations had a trap for the unwary.  If the stock subject to an option or stock appreciation right (SAR) was subject to a buyback at other than fair market value, then the option or SAR may not be exempt from 409A. 

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 1: Firing Squad

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This first post is all about the changes related to the end of the service relationship.  Check back for future posts discussing other aspects of these proposed regulations.

Severance Safe Harbor Available for Bad Hires. Severance is, surprisingly to some, generally considered deferred compensation subject to 409A.  However, severance can be exempt from 409A if the severance is due to a truly involuntary separation under 409A and does not exceed two times the lesser of (1) the employee’s prior annual compensation or (2) the limit on compensation

EEOC Weighs in on the Impact of the ADA and GINA On Employer-Sponsored Wellness Programs

Regulations Compliance Puzzle PiecesOn Monday, May 16 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued two final regulations providing guidance on how employer-sponsored wellness programs work with the general antidiscrimination requirements of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”). These rules were published in the May 17th Federal Register.

This blog post is designed to provide background information on wellness programs and the antidiscrimination protections of the ADA and GINA, to highlight the final regulations and note two action items relating to smoking cessation programs and tiered health plan benefit or cost-sharing structures.

What is a Wellness Program?

The term “wellness program” generally refers to programs intended to promote health and disease prevention and activities offered to employees as part of an employer-sponsored group health plan. Wellness programs may also be offered separately from as a benefit of employment. Wellness programs may ask employees to answer a health risk assessment, to undergo biometric screenings for risk factors, or may provide educational health-related programs that may include nutrition classes, weight loss programs, smoking cessation programs, or even onsite exercise facilities.

Health-contingent wellness programs may require an employee to satisfy some standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. These health-contingent programs may be either activity-only or outcome-based, requiring, for example, that

EEOC Takes Aim at Erroneous Application of ADA “Safe Harbor” to Wellness Programs

Challenges AheadIn its preamble to the final regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) published May 17, 2016, which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) once again reiterated its disagreement with the district courts’ application of the bona fide plan safe harbor to the wellness programs in Seff v. Broward County and EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc. (discussed in a prior post).

Seff and Flambeau

In both Seff and Flambeau, plaintiffs brought suit arguing that the wellness programs violated the ADA’s prohibition on mandatory medical examinations and inquiries. Both courts disagreed and held that the wellness programs fell under the safe harbor provision, which in pertinent part state that an insurer or any entity that administers benefit plans is not prohibited from “establishing, sponsoring, observing or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on or not inconsistent with state law.”

In Seff, Broward County offered a wellness program that included a biometric screening and health risk assessment questionnaire. This information was used by Broward County’s health insurer to identify employees who had certain diseases to offer them the opportunity to participate in disease management or coaching programs. To encourage participation, Broward Country imposed a $20 per pay-period surcharge on health

Education or Advice: The DOL Final Definition of Fiduciary; Conflict of Interest Rule

Changes AheadEarlier this month, the Department of Labor finally released the long-awaited “Definition of Fiduciary; Conflict of Interest Rule.”

This blog post is intended to do two things:

  1. Provide a brief history of the proposal, and
  2. Provide an overview of the key points of the final rule and how it differs from the 2015 proposal.

For additional materials and information on the Final Rule, visit the DOL webpage. In addition, you can access all 200 plus pages of the final rule here.

I.  The “Conflict of Interest” Rule’s History

Since the adoption of ERISA, the governing regulations have mandated use of a five-part test that dictates whether an individual will be considered an investment advice fiduciary. In order to rise to the level of an investment advice fiduciary, the five-part test required that a person give investment advice: (1) about the value or advisability of investing in securities or other property; (2) on a regular basis; (3) pursuant to an agreement with the plan; (4) individualized to the specific plan; and (5) with the mutual understanding that such advice will serve as a primary basis for investment decisions.

The DOL initially proposed rulemaking to change the definition of an investment advice fiduciary back in October of 2010. The 2010 proposal generally did the following:

  • suggested eliminating the five-part test and, more specifically, the

Payroll and HR Professionals Beware: Phishing Schemes are now Trying to Lure You

March 7, 2016

Categories

ThinkstockPhotos-465512675 (2)ALERT, ALERT!!!! The IRS has renewed a consumer alert for e-mail schemes regarding phishing and malware incidents targeted at individuals. That renewal came after an approximate 400 percent surge in such incidents so far this tax season. The 400 percent surge was not the end of the phishing schemes this tax season, and now a phishing scheme is emerging to target payroll and HR.

The IRS has also issued a second alert to warn about additional scams this tax season which are designed to trick HR and payroll professionals to provide personal information on employees. Unlike prior scams, the e-mails are no longer just designed to trick taxpayers into thinking the IRS is attempting to contact them for personal information. This latest phishing scheme is a variation known as a “spoofing” e-mail crafted to look as though it came from within the company being targeted – e.g., company executives.

A common example described in the most recent alert indicates that the e-mail will use the actual name of the company chief executive officer so that the email appears to be from the “CEO” to a company payroll office employee. The “CEO” will ask that the employee provide a variety of personal information for “review”. Some of the reported requests include:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company

Good News for Safe Harbor Plan Sponsors: The IRS Will Allow Mid-Year Changes

On January 29, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service issued guidance on mid-year changes to safe harbor plans under Internal Revenue Code Sections 401(k), and 401(m). Notice 2016-16 significantly expands the permissible mid-year changes available to sponsors of safe harbor plans under prior guidance.

The Notice provides guidance on mid-year changes to a safe harbor plan or to a plan’s safe harbor notice content that do not violate the safe harbor rules on account of being mid-year changes. For purposes of this Notice, a mid-year change is one that is either effective on a day other than the first of the plan year or one that is effective on the first of the plan year but adopted after that date.

This expansion, of course, comes with a few requirements. Simply put, Notice 2016-16 requires that any changes must meet applicable notice and election opportunities and must not be on the list of prohibited mid-year changes.

Notice and Election Requirements

Not all mid-year changes require an employer to provide an updated safe harbor notice and election opportunity. Mid-year changes that do not alter required safe harbor notice content (even if the information is provided in a plan’s safe harbor notice) do not require any additional notice. Similarly, if the pre-plan year annual safe harbor notice included the required information about the mid-year change and its effective date, then no additional notice is required.

Any mid-year change that does alter a plan’s required safe harbor notice content

SCOTUS Meant What It Said & Said What It Meant: Dudenhoeffer Imposes Higher Pleading Standards

Stock DropIn a rebuke to the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court granted the Amgen defendants’ petition for certiorari, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion in the district court. The unanimous per curiam opinion was issued without further briefing and oral argument, an unusual step in civil cases. The substance of the opinion and its handling by summary disposition sends a clear message: the Court meant what it said in Dudenhoeffer when it stressed the role of motions to dismiss in “divid[ing] the plausible sheep from the meritless goats” and crafted new liability requirements that plaintiffs must plausibly allege are met in order to state a claim. Admittedly, we steal liberally from Judge Kozinski’s dissent in Amgen in characterizing the opinion this way. But the Court’s summary handling of the Ninth Circuit’s judgment leaves no doubt that motions to dismiss must be given serious consideration and that boilerplate allegations will not suffice.

A Short Review of Amgen’s Long History

The continuing Amgen litigation began in 2007 when former employees filed a class action against Amgen defendants alleging that the fiduciaries violated the duty of prudence under ERISA. The complaint alleged that the fiduciaries knew or should have known, on the basis of inside information, that the company’s stock price was inflated. The district court dismissed the original complaint

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