Following a bench trial in a Pennsylvania federal district court in Nunez v. B. Braun Medical, Inc., 401(k) plan fiduciaries defeated a lawsuit alleging that the fiduciaries imprudently managed and paid excessive recordkeeping and investment management fees. The B. Braun Medical fiduciaries’ win follows on the heels of a jury trial win by fiduciaries of Yale University’s 403(b) plan. The court opinions in both of these cases serve as a good reminder that offense is the best defense, and ERISA plan fiduciaries best protect themselves against ERISA breach of duty of prudence claims by proactively implementing strong fiduciary governance practices, such as keeping thorough committee meeting minutes. Consistently creating and maintaining detailed records regarding the initial selection and ongoing monitoring of vendors and investment options will help the committee defend those decisions later.
In Nunez, the court found that both the processes and the outcomes with respect to the plan’s recordkeeping and investments were objectively prudent—the opposite of which the plaintiffs would be required to prove to win their case.
Continue reading “Another 401(k) Plan Fiduciary Defeats Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims at Trial”
The SECURE 2.0 Act made sweeping changes to Internal Revenue Code (Code) and ERISA provisions governing employee benefit plans. In a recent letter to the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee addressed a number of ambiguities and technical errors in the SECURE 2.0 Act and signaled their intent to introduce technical correction legislation. (Exactly which errors will be fixed in such legislation remain to be seen.)
The letter pinpointed the following four provisions of the SECURE 2.0 Act and asked the IRS to implement the legislative provisions in a way that would “ensure that Congressional intent is carried out:”
Continue reading “Congressional Leaders Address SECURE 2.0 Act Glitches”
The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency officially ended on April 10 and May 11, 2023, respectively. (As a practical matter, the Biden administration is effectively treating both emergencies as ending on May 11, 2023, however.) The end of the emergencies offers sponsors of group health plans the opportunity to modify certain COVID-19-related benefits that were offered in the past several years because of national emergency and public health emergency-related legislation and regulations.
In early 2020, following passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and the release of guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the Agencies), group health plan sponsors and administrators worked quickly to implement new mandates and incorporate plan operational flexibility relating to the coverage and provision of COVID testing, vaccines, and telehealth. (In addition, the Agencies also adopted various extensions to employee benefit plan deadlines that are coming to an end with the end of the national emergency, as discussed in a previous Spotlight on Benefits post.)
Continue reading “Health Plan Coverage and Documentation Following the End of the COVID-19 Emergencies”
On January 30, 2023, President Biden announced the Administration’s plan to extend the current declarations of the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) through May 11, 2023, and end both emergencies on that date. The end of the national emergency, which was originally declared in March 2020, will cause certain employee benefit plan-related deadline extensions to conclude this summer.
Specifically, under relief that the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service jointly provided effective March 1, 2020, the timeframes for taking the following actions were extended during the “Outbreak Period” for up to one year:
Continue reading “COVID-19 National Emergency Plan Deadline Extensions Set to End This Summer”
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that beginning June 1, 2023, it will accept determination letter applications for individually designed 403(b) retirement plans. As background, 403(b) plans are a distinct type of retirement plan for employees of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations and public schools (including colleges and universities). Despite the formal distinction, though, in many respects modern 403(b) plans often resemble 401(k) plans.
Continue reading “New Kids on the Block: IRS Creates Determination Letter Program for Individually Designed 403(b) Plans”
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently removed one regulatory hurdle for public companies that maintain employee benefit plans subject to the Form 5500 requirement. Specifically, the DOL has relaxed the criteria for who qualifies as an “independent qualified public accountant,” or “IQPA.” This matters to employers because it will open the market to new accounting firms that can issue the accountant’s report for the Form 5500 annual filing. IQPAs are the auditors who issue the annual accountant’s report. While not all Form 5500-filers are subject to the accountant’s report requirement, ERISA-covered retirement plans (except for certain small retirement plans) and funded welfare plans must provide the accountant’s report annually.
Revising and restating its 1975 Interpretive Bulletin on the Independence of Employee Benefit Plan Accountants with new Interpretive Bulletin 2022-01, the DOL has changed its guidelines for determining the “independence” of an IQPA. Previously, an auditor could not be an IQPA for a plan if they, the accounting firm, or certain other “members” of the firm owned any direct or indirect financial interest in the plan sponsor during the period covered by the financial statements that are the subject of the audit or during the period of the professional engagement.
Continue reading “The Annual Form 5500 Audit: DOL Broadens Criteria for Independent Qualified Public Accountants”
The Internal Revenue Service recently granted plan sponsors additional time to amend retirement plans to reflect changes in law under: (i) Section 2203 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act); (ii) the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act); and (iii) Section 104 of the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 (Miners Act).
Sponsors of qualified plans and non-governmental Section 403(b) plans (including collectively bargained plans) now have until December 31, 2025, to adopt certain plan amendments required by these recent changes in law or to conform the written plan to operational changes permitted by these laws.
Continue reading “IRS Relaxes Plan Amendment Deadlines for Changes Under the SECURE Act and Other Laws”
The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently published its Spring 2022 Regulatory Agenda, and here is a summary of several big ticket items:
ESG & ERISA: Plan sponsors and investment professionals have been waiting for final rules on the permissible use of environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) considerations under ERISA when selecting plan investments and exercising shareholder rights with respect to plan assets. Based on the updated regulatory agenda, the DOL is planning to issue final ESG rules in December 2022.
Fiduciary Rule: Plan advisors and investment professionals have also been awaiting guidance on the DOL’s fiduciary rule re-write. The Trump era “fiduciary rule” is currently in effect and is a combination of a new and expansive definition of fiduciary advice and an exemption – PTE 2020-02 – from the prohibitions of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for certain conflicts of interest arising from nondiscretionary fiduciary recommendations. However, last year, the Biden administration announced that it is revisiting the definition of fiduciary investment advice and the requirements of various prohibited transaction exemptions. Based on the Agenda, we can expect a new proposed fiduciary rule in December 2022.
Continue reading “Stay Tuned – the DOL Regulatory Agenda”