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A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

Last week, we discussed four of the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself.

On Monday, we discussed failures to timely update plan documents.

On Tuesday, we discussed an SPD’s failure to accurately describe the terms of a plan.

On Wednesday, we discussed a plan’s definition of compensation.

On Thursday, we discussed delinquent contributions.

We hope you enjoyed this refresher on best compliance practices.  For our last post in this five-part series, we discuss a topic that never goes out of style…

Plan Governance

Description

Plan governance generally encompasses the oversight policies and procedures that plans enact to ensure good process and operational compliance. The following discussion addresses two specific aspects of plan governance—those which are among the most commonly neglected.  Fortunately, these requirements for good plan governance are also extremely easy to satisfy.

Potential Liability

Errors stemming from poor plan governance can result in plan operational failures with potential consequences ranging from minor to loss of a plan’s qualified status.  To the extent poor plan governance stems from or results in a fiduciary breach, fiduciaries may be held personally liable.

Examples

Fiduciary Training. Plan fiduciaries should receive regular and thorough training on best practices in plan governance. Common errors resulting from a failure to receive such training include failure to properly establish and engage

A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

Mistakes are all too easy to make, but fortunately, they are also easy to prevent! This week, we are discussing the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself. Each day we will discuss a new compliance mistake, so stay tuned.

Failure to Timely Update Plan Document

Description

Statutes and regulations establishing qualification requirements change relatively frequently. Plans must be modified to conform to the requirements as required by each statute and regulation.

Potential Liability

Potential liability will differ based on the statute or regulation in question. In some circumstances, failure to timely adopt legislative and/or regulatory changes may result in disqualification of the plan.

Examples

Most recently, the Department of Labor updated the regulation governing the process for disability claims. The new regulations provide participants with enhanced rights, and require, among other things, that claims administrators provide claimants with more thorough descriptions and information supporting their denial of benefits. If a plan fails to conform to the regulations, claimants will be deemed to have exhausted all of their administrative options immediately, meaning that they may file a lawsuit without following the plan’s disability claims appeal procedures.

The Fix

Most 401(k) sponsors rely on their benefits lawyer, plan provider or plan administrator to keep them apprised of new documentation requirements.  In the absence of such an arrangement, plan sponsors should check on an annual basis to determine whether there

DOL FAQs Guide Compliance Efforts during Fiduciary Rule Transition Period

June 6, 2017

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The Department of Labor has issued guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions to help firms and their advisers impacted by the Fiduciary Rule know what is expected on and after June 9, 2017, on and after January 1, 2018, and during the period between (the “Transition Period”).  We’ve outlined a few of the highlights below:

As of June 9, 2017, firms and their advisers must comply with the “Best Interest Contract Exemption” and the “Class Exemption for Principal Transactions in Certain Assets Between Investment Advice Fiduciaries and Employee Benefit Plans and IRAs”.  However, fewer conditions must be met to comply with these exemptions during the Transition Period.

As described fully in the Fiduciary Rule, the “impartial conduct standards” generally require fiduciaries to make recommendations that are prudent, loyal, and free from material misrepresentation and to receive only reasonable compensation for such recommendations.  The impartial conduct standards do not apply to PTE 84-24 until January 1, 2018 but apply to PTEs 75-1, 77-4, 80-83, 83-1, and 86-128 on and after June 9, 2017.

The DOL reassured firms implementing new compensation systems which will not be in place by June 9, 2017, that their advisers may still satisfy the impartial conduct standards – by, for example, disclosing that a certain recommended investment benefits the adviser more than another investment.

Of specific interest to plan sponsors is Question 12.  There, the DOL outlines three types of communications a plan (including its representatives and an interactive tool) has with a participant

Worried About the Fiduciary Rule? Don’t Be…Yet!

March 21, 2017

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Worried About the Fiduciary Rule? Don’t Be…Yet!

March 21, 2017

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Pen Marking Days on a CalendarThe Department of Labor (DOL) released Field Assistance Bulletin 2017-01 on March 10, 2017, which outlines a temporary enforcement policy related to its final fiduciary rule.

Background

On February 3, 2017, President Trump directed the DOL to re-examine the final rule’s impact. As a result, on March 2, 2017, the DOL opened a 15-day comment period (which ended last Friday) on a proposed 60-day delay of the rule’s effective date, from April 10, 2017 to June 9, 2017.

Simultaneously, the DOL opened a 45-day comment period on the substance of the actual rule. This second comment period affords the DOL with an opportunity to review comments before June 9, 2017 (the proposed delayed effective date). At such point, the DOL could allow the final rule to take effect, propose an additional extension in order make amendments to the rule based on the comments received or withdraw the rule.

With the final rule’s current effective date quickly approaching and no indication on whether a delay would occur, there was growing uncertainty among members of the retirement services industry about how to proceed. For example, if the DOL doesn’t announce its decision to delay implementation of the rule until after April 10, 2017, a “gap” would exist between April 10, 2017 and the date the DOL actually issues the final rule delaying the implementation.  The other issue is that

Fiduciary Rule Under Review – Delayed Applicability Date

In a prior post, we covered President Trump’s order directing the Department of Labor to review the new regulation and, as it deems appropriate, to take steps to revise or rescind it.  The Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) has taken the first step in response to that order by proposing a 60 day delay in the applicability date. The final rule had an applicability date of April 10, 2017.  Likewise, the prohibited transaction exemptions (“PTEs”) included in the final rule, such as the Best Interest Contract Exemption, had an applicability date of April 10, 2017.

In light of the President’s prior order, EBSA has released the text of a proposed rule, to be published on March 2, 2017, delaying the applicability date of the final rule and the PTEs by 60 days.  EBSA noted that there were only 45 days until the rule and the PTEs became effective and said that it felt it needed more time to perform the analysis required by the President’s order.

EBSA is inviting comments on the proposal to extend the applicability date of the final rule and PTEs.  Comments must be submitted quickly; the comment period will end 15 days after publication.

Just Push Pause: Revisiting Proposed Regulations

On January 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” (the “Freeze Memo“).  The Freeze Memo was anticipated, and mirrors similar memos issued by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush during their first few days in office.  In light of the Freeze Memo, we have reviewed some of our recent posts discussing new regulations to determine the extent to which the Freeze Memo might affect such regulations.

TimeoutThe Regulatory Freeze

The two-page Freeze Memo requires that:

  1. Agencies not send for publication in the Federal Regulation any regulations that had not yet been so sent as of January 20, 2017, pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President.
  2. Regulations that have been sent for publication in the Federal Register but not yet published be withdrawn, pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President.
  3. Regulations that have been published but have not reached their effective date are to be delayed for 60 days from the date of the Freeze Memo (until March 21, 2017), pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President. Agencies are further encouraged to consider postponing the effective date beyond the minimum 60 days.

Putting a Pin in It: Impacted Regulations

We have previously discussed a number of proposed IRS regulations which have not yet been finalized.  These include the proposed regulations to

Fiduciary Rule Under Review – Update

On Friday, President Trump issued an order directing the Department of Labor to review the new regulation to determine whether it is inconsistent with the current administration’s policies and, as it deems appropriate, to take steps to revise or rescind it.

The long awaited Fiduciary Rule expanded protection for retirement investors and included a requirement that brokers offering investment advice in the retirement space put clients’ interests first.  Financial institutions that either implemented, or were rapidly completing, their compliance efforts to comply with the Fiduciary Rule will need to assess the impact of this order on these efforts.  Notwithstanding many earlier reports that the rule would be delayed 180 days, the date on which the rule was to take effect (April 10, 2017) has not been delayed.  However, it is anticipated that a delay will be forthcoming, making the decision whether or not to proceed with further compliance efforts a difficult one.  Many of those institutions may choose to implement only certain aspects of the Fiduciary Rule, while delaying complying with other aspects of that rule, pending the results of the DOL review.

Some have speculated that regardless of whether the Fiduciary Rule is finally made effective, compliance with the Fiduciary Rule could become the new “best practice” model; however, it is unlikely that financial institutions will voluntarily assume most of the obligations and resulting exposure of serving retirees in a fiduciary capacity.

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

Stop! Drop! …and Roll. Smothering Regulations Before They Ignite.

It has been an eventful 10 days in the courts and in Congress for halting impending regulations and setting the stage to roll-back new rules implemented by the Obama Administration. Employers can expect a repeal of recently passed regulations is on the horizon in the area of benefits regulation.

ACA — 1557 Regulations: Discrimination Based on Gender Identity or Pregnancy Termination

A nationwide injunction prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from enforcing nondiscrimination rules promulgated under ACA section 1557 as they relate to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or termination of pregnancy was imposed by a federal judge on December 31, 2016. (Franciscan Alliance, Inc. v. Burwell, N.D. Tex., No. 16-cv-108, 12/31/16)  The plaintiffs argued that section 1557 regulations forced health care professionals and religious-based facilities to provide gender transition services against their medical judgment and religious beliefs.

Regulations under 1557 have been challenged in a number of suits across the country, the most recent being a case filed by a collection of Catholic organizations in North Dakota. (Catholic Benefits Ass’n v. Burwell, D.N.D., No. 3:16-cv-432, filed 12/28/2016) Plaintiffs are arguing that the rules improperly require religious health-care organizations and benefits providers to provide services and insurance coverage relating to certain procedures that are in violation of their religious beliefs.

Since the passage of these regulations, employer-sponsors of health plans have been scrambling to determine if the rules require that they cover gender reassignment, among other things. Generally speaking, most employer-sponsored

Top 10 Employee Benefits New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

new-years-resolutionsIf statistics are any guide, by now a significant number of you have already broken your New Year’s resolutions.  However, there’s still plenty of time to make new ones that you can break, er, keep.  If you sponsor or work with an employee benefit plan (and odds are, if you’re reading this, that you do), then here are some ideas to keep in mind in the upcoming year:

    1. Fiduciary, Know Thyself. It important to know your fiduciaries (or know if you are one). Reviewing plan documents, charters, and delegations, among other possible documents, are key to determining who is an ERISA fiduciary. You should make sure that any individuals who have been designated are still willing and able to serve and, if not, they should be removed. While not as much of an issue for plan sponsors, advisors should also closely review the DOL’s conflict of interest/fiduciary rule to determine if it applies to them.
    2. Look Over Your Service Providers’ Shoulders. Even if you think you have outsourced one or more of your plan responsibilities, you’re still required, under ERISA, to monitor those providers to make sure they are doing their jobs properly. Additionally, if you have not done an RFP in a while for a particular service provider, it may be time to do one.
    3. Resolve to Improve Your Plan Governance. As we have detailed previously, the specter
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