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Third Circuit Update: 401(k) Plan Includes Reasonable Investment Options, Directed Trustee Not A Fiduciary

The Third Circuit recently issued a decision in Renfro v. Unisys Corporation, affirming dismissal of the claims brought against Unisys defendants in a 401(k) plan “excessive fee case.” The court specifically affirmed dismissal of the breach of fiduciary claims brought by of a putative class of participants in a 401(k) defined contribution plan on account of the fact that the Unisys 401(k) plan’s mix and range of investment options was reasonable. Since the court affirmed dismissal of the complaint, it declined to rule on whether the Unisys defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the ERISA Section 404(c) defense. One clear implication of the decision is that there is nothing wrong with offering “higher priced” retail mutual funds in a 401(k) plan. The Third Circuit also affirmed dismissal of the Fidelity defendants since Fidelity was not a fiduciary with respect to the selection and retention of investment options in Unisys’s 401(k) plan.

The opinion was authored by Judge Scirica and is online available at: http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/102447p.pdf.

IRS Establishes a Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) recently announced a new settlement program for employers with misclassified workers. Under the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (“VCSP”), employers can get a significant reduction in their federal employment tax liability associated with past nonemployment treatment by agreeing to properly classify their workers for future tax periods. This announcement comes on the heels of recent announcements that the IRS, Department of Labor (“DOL”) and various state agencies are collaborating on examining worker misclassification issues.

The VCSP is generally available to employers who want to voluntarily change the prospective classification of their misclassified workers from independent contractors (or other nonemployee status) to employees. To be eligible, the employer must have consistently treated the workers as nonemployees and for the three previous three years filed all required Forms 1099 for such workers. Further, the employer cannot be under audit by the IRS or by the DOL or a state government agency concerning the classification of the workers. An employer who has been previously audited by the IRS or DOL concerning the classification of workers is eligible for the VCSP only if it has complied with the results of that audit.

In exchange for agreeing to prospectively treat the class of workers as employees for future tax periods, the employer will pay only 10% of the employment tax liability that otherwise would have been due on the compensation paid to the workers for the most recent tax year, but determined under the reduced rates of Section 3509 of the

IRS Treatment of Employer-Provided Cell Phones and Employer Reimbursement of Personal Cell Phone Use

September 21, 2011

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With the issuance of Notice 2011-72, the Internal Revenue Service finally addressed the uncertainty relating to the tax treatment of employer-provided cell phones (or other similar telecommunications equipment) and of the personal use of an employer-provided cell phone by the employee.

Historically, cell phones provided by an employer to its employees for business use were deductible to the employer and excludable from the employee’s income as a “working condition fringe benefit”, subject to stringent recordkeeping requirements. However, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 removed the cell phones from the definition of listed property for tax years beginning after December 31, 2009. As a result, employers could arguably exclude the value of certain employer-provided cell phones from employee wages without complying with the substantiation requirements applicable to other employer provided property.

This new guidance offers good news for employers. Pursuant to Notice 2011-72, an employee’s use of an employer-provided cell phone for reasons related to the employer’s trade or business will be treated as a working condition fringe benefit and excludable from the employee’s income if the cell phone is issued primarily for business reasons. A cell phone is considered to be issued primarily for business purposes if there are substantial reasons relating to the employer’s business for providing the employee with a cell phone (other than to provide compensation to the employee). But perhaps the best news for employers is that any substantiation requirements that would otherwise be needed to take a deduction will be deemed to

2012 PPACA Checklist

2012 PPACA Checklist

September 12, 2011

Authored by: Serena Yee

While most of the design changes required for group health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended (“PPACA”), became effective in 2010 or 2011, some additional requirements must be implemented for 2012.

All group health plans subject to PPACA must comply with the following requirements, regardless of its status as a “grandfathered health plan”:

  • Provision of a Summary of Benefits.  The summary must include the information specified in the regulations but cannot exceed four double-sided pages. A summary must be provided to participants and beneficiaries as part of any written enrollment materials and a summary must be included for each benefit package offered for which the participant or beneficiary is eligible. However, upon renewal, only the summary for the benefit package in which the participant is enrolled needs to be furnished, unless the participant or beneficiary requests a summary for another benefit package. Unless an extension is granted, summaries must be issued no later than March 23, 2012.  Instructions and a template of a draft summary of benefits is published in the Federal Register and can be viewed at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-22/pdf/2011-21192.pdf.
  • W-2 Reporting Obligation.  Employers must begin reporting the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored coverage on an employee’s Form W-2 beginning with the Form W-2 issued in January 2013 for the 2012 tax year.  Make sure that you have appropriate systems in place to collect and determine the value that must be reported.  IRS Notice 2011-28, available at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-11-28.pdf, provides interim guidance

New York Marriage Equality and Benefits – Part 2

New York Marriage Equality and Benefits – Part 2

September 8, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Last week we looked at the implications of New York’s Marriage Equality Act (“Act”) upon the tax treatment of employer-provided health care benefits for same-sex married couples in New York. Today we’ll consider how the Act affects the administration of family and medical leave, HIPAA special enrollment rights and health care continuation coverage under COBRA and New York’s “mini-COBRA” law.

Does an ERISA Plan Exist?

Does an ERISA Plan Exist?

September 5, 2011

Authored by: Travis Kearbey

This mixed question of fact and law has perplexed courts perhaps as much as it has confused benefits managers in corporations across the nation.  However, for employers operating within the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (AR, IA, MO, MN, NE, ND, and SD) this question has recently become easier to answer with respect to single-employee agreements.  In August, the Eighth Circuit parted with federal courts in the Fourth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits by holding in Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corp. v. Schieffer that a contract governing severance benefits for a single employee does not constitute an ERISA plan.  

Seventh Circuit Reverses Kraft SJ in 401(k) Fee Case

Seventh Circuit Reverses Kraft SJ in 401(k) Fee Case

September 1, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Earlier this year, a split Seventh Circuit panel reversed, in part, summary judgment previously granted in favor of Kraft Foods Global, Inc. (“Kraft”) in a class action ERISA breach of fiduciary duty case involving “excessive fees” claims in connection with Kraft’s 401(k) plan. The majority opinion was authored by Judge Adelman, an Eastern District of Wisconsin judge sitting by designation in the Seventh Circuit, and was joined by Judge Rovner.

This entry provides a high-level summary of the issues reversed by the court:

  • The Company Stock Fund Issue:  In 2003, Kraft’s then-parent company, Altria Group, Inc. (formerly Philip Morris), made the decision to move the company stock fund in its 401(k) plan from the unitized stock fund (which generally employs a cash buffer) model to “real time” trading where each participant owned shares of the relevant stock rather than units of a fund that invested in the stock. Kraft plan fiduciaries considered similarly moving away from the unitized stock fund mode; however, at that time, Hewitt (the Kraft plan recordkeeper) did not offer real time trading. The court also noted that the unitized model offered advantages (e.g., faster trades and lower transaction costs by “netting” participant transactions).  Based on the Court’s review of the record, the Kraft plan fiduciaries considered, but never actually made a decision regarding, whether to retain the unitized fund or move to real time trading.  On remand, the Seventh Circuit majority ruled that Kraft must offer evidence that its plan fiduciaries made a decision

New York Marriage Equality and Benefits

New York Marriage Equality and Benefits

September 1, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Now that same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, what steps do employers need to take with respect to employee benefits? The to-do list must consider the federal Income Tax Code, ERISA, insurance law and of course New York’s Marriage Equality Act (“Act”), which took effect July 24, 2011. This is the first in a series of posts that will discuss this topic.

The Act recognizes all legally performed marriages between same- and opposite-sex couples, whether the marriage took place in New York or elsewhere. This means that same-sex marriages, even those entered into under the laws of another state, must be treated equally under the laws of New York.

Georgia Restrictive Covenant Act

August 31, 2011

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Georgia Restrictive Covenant Act

August 31, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

On May 11, 2011, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 30 into law, beginning a new era for non-compete, non-disclosure, and non-solicitation agreements under Georgia.  Georgia historically has been an inhospitable forum for employers seeking to enforce restrictive covenants against former employees.  Georgia’s new Restrictive Covenant Act (the “Act”) clarifies and strengthens the ability of employers to restrict conduct during and after employment.

Importantly, the Act applies only to Georgia restrictive covenant agreements entered into on or after May 11, 2011.  Employers with operations in Georgia should revisit their restrictive covenant agreements and consider revising their agreements to take advantage of protections of the new law.  Historically, Georgia law has not required new or additional consideration to support a new restrictive covenant agreement signed by a current employee, so employers are in a good position to strengthen their competitive protections, at this time, should they choose to do so.

Perhaps the most significant change of the Act, courts are now expressly authorized to modify or “blue pencil” an overbroad restrictive covenants entered into on or after May 11, 2011.  Accordingly, courts have the discretion, but are not obligated, to strike out or remove language that renders the restrictive covenant unenforceable.  Given the prospective nature of the Act, Georgia common law will still govern agreements entered into prior to the effective date of the Act, which means if any restrictive covenant in such agreements is overbroad it will not be enforced.

Individual PTEs Dodd-Frank Act

Individual PTEs Dodd-Frank Act

August 31, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Earlier this summer, the DOL issued a “FAQ on Credit Ratings and Individual Prohibited Transaction Exemptions”  concerning how Section 939A of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”) will impact prohibited transaction exemptions (“PTEs”) granted to individual fiduciaries or transactions under Section 408(a) of ERISA.  Section 939A of the Dodd-Frank Act generally requires federal agencies to review and modify existing regulations that refer to, or require reliance on, credit ratings within one year following the enactment of Dodd-Frank (i.e., by July 21, 2011).   Certain individual PTEs refer to or rely upon credit ratings.

In its FAQ, the DOL confirmed its position that individual PTEs do not qualify as “federal regulations”; accordingly, Section 939A of the Dodd-Frank Act does not require review and modification of previously granted exemptions. This means that individual PTEs will remain in force with no modifications despite the Section 939A July deadline.

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