More Employees Will Be 162(m) Covered Employees under the American Rescue Plan Act

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed by Congress and signed into law on March 11, 2021, expands the definition of “covered employee” under Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m), requiring the inclusion of an additional top five highest paid employees (beyond those officers already counted).

Section 162(m) imposes a $1 million deduction limit on remuneration paid to a covered employee. Currently, covered employees for a particular tax year include the principal executive officer, the principal financial officer, and the next three most highly compensated officers (the Five Officers). The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changed the Section 162(m) rules for tax years after December 31, 2016, so that an individual’s status as a covered employee will continue even if he or she is no longer among the five highest paid officers (e.g., for purposes of compensation paid after he or she terminates from employment with the public company). Therefore, today the list of covered employees includes the Five Officers and anyone who was one of the Five Officers for tax years beginning after December 31, 2016.

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Department of Labor Confirms It Will Not Enforce Controversial “Pecuniary Factors” Rule for ERISA Plan Investments

On March 10, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing ERISA, announced that it will not enforce the Trump-era “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” rule, which has been perceived as potentially discouraging retirement plan fiduciaries from selecting investment alternatives which emphasize environmental, social, and governance factors (commonly referred to as “ESG investments”).

The rule, which was finalized in November 2020 and technically became effective on January 12, 2021, does not prohibit ESG investments.  However, it has been widely criticized as fostering a misapprehension that ESG investments may be subjected to a higher degree of fiduciary scrutiny than others.  Following the election, EBSA’s announcement of its non-enforcement policy comes as no surprise, as the Biden administration had already identified the rule on its “List of Agency Actions for Review.”

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New Guidance Requires Free COVID-19 Testing and Vaccines

On February 26, 2021, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury collectively issued new frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and other health coverage issues related to COVID-19. Previous blogs posts reviewed the FAQs on COVID-19 group health plan coverage implementation and preventative care mandates. The FAQs expand upon prior guidance related to the requirement under the FFCRA that group health plans and health insurance issuers (health plans) cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and vaccinations, and certain related issues.

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Recent Webinar Regarding Health Plan Provisions in Consolidated Appropriations Act: New Legislation Brings COVID-19 Relief and Shines a Light on Health Plan Price Transparency

As the pandemic continues, employers are increasingly faced with compliance challenges in response to new and pending legislation. Click here to view our webinar recording as members of Faegre Drinker’s benefits and executive compensation group discussed various welfare benefits provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the new provisions employers will need to navigate. Specifically, our team explored:
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COVID-related Benefit Plan Timeframe Extension Relief Continues With One Year Case-by-case Limit

As described in a prior blog post, last spring the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (Agencies) issued COVID-19 pandemic relief that extended numerous deadlines under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to group health plans, retirement plans, and other ERISA benefit plans, as well as participants in those plans (Extension Relief).  Specifically, the Extension Relief stated that, subject to a one-year statutory limitation imposed by ERISA Section 518 and Code Section 7508A, all deadlines for benefit plan actions identified in the Extension Relief (Deadlines) would be put on hold for the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (Outbreak Period). President Biden extended the National Emergency on February 24, 2021 and the end date is, at this time, unknown.

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Biden Administration Permits Trump-Era Investment Advice Exemption, Rollover Guidance, to Come Into Effect

The Department of Labor issued a press release on February 12 confirming that Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02, titled “Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees” (the “Exemption”), would go into effect as scheduled. The Exemption was finalized and published by the Trump administration in December 2020, and came into effect on February 16.

The newly available Exemption is intended to fill a void left by the loss of the “Best Interest Contract” or “BIC” Exemption, which was struck down along with the rest of the Obama-era Fiduciary Rule in a March 2018 Fifth Circuit ruling.

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PBGC Publishes Final Rule Allowing Simplified Withdrawal Liability Calculations Applicable to Benefit Reductions, Benefit Suspensions and Contributions

On Friday January 8, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) published a final rule that provides multiemployer pension plans with additional methods to help calculate employer withdrawal liability. The rule includes relatively simplified approaches to calculating withdrawal liability that multiemployer plans may choose to use. The rule comes into effect on Friday, January 7, 2022, 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.  The final rule reflects changes based on several comments made to the proposed rule that was published on February 6, 2019.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) charges the PBGC with oversight of multiemployer pension plans, including employer withdrawal liability. Multiemployer plans and their actuaries do not have free reign to calculate withdrawal liability as they see fit. Rather, they must follow the provisions and approved methods set forth in ERISA and as published by the PBGC. The new rule stems from amendments to the ERISA funding rules implemented by Congress in 2006 under the Pension Protection Act (“PPA”) and in 2014 under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (“MPRA”). The funding rules permitted financially distressed multiemployer plans to reduce adjustable benefits, suspend a portion of nonforfeitable benefits, and impose contribution increases and surcharges for underfunded plans. These funding rules clarified whether plans could take these changes into account when determining withdrawal liability and instructed the PBGC to draft simplified methods to do so.

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IRS Extends Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement for Certain Retirement Plan Elections

On December 22, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued an advance version of Notice 2021-03 (the “Extension Notice”) to extend the temporary relief from the “physical presence” requirement for participant elections under retirement plans that was previously granted in Notice 2020-42 (the “Relief Notice”).

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409A/162(m) Payment Delay Provisions

Public companies that sponsor nonqualified deferred compensation plans that require Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) payment delays may want to consider whether removing the payment delay provision from a plan is warranted in light of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes to the definition of a “covered employee.” The December 31, 2020 deadline is approaching to amend plans to remove Section 162(m) payment delays without the change being considered an impermissible acceleration of payment under Internal Revenue Code Section 409A.

Section 162(m) imposes a $1 million deduction limit on remuneration paid to a “covered employee.” The TCJA changed the Section 162(m) rules so that an individual’s status as a “covered employee” will continue after he or she terminates from employment with a public company. Prior to the TCJA change, an individual ceased to be a covered employee for purposes of Section 162(m) when he or she terminated employment. This change to the “covered employee” definition applies to tax years beginning after December 31, 2016. As a result, covered employees identified for a public company’s 2017 tax year (in accordance with the pre-TCJA rules for identifying covered employees) continue to be covered employees for the company’s 2018 tax year and thereafter.

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