Five New Ways That Plan Fiduciaries May Locate Missing Participants

On January 12, 2021, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) of the Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced new guidance on a range of issues related to missing participants:

  • In Missing Participants – Best Practices for Pension Plans, EBSA has provided examples of best practices that it has identified as being effective at minimizing and mitigating the problem of missing or nonresponsive participants.
  • This new guidance also includes Compliance Assistance Release No. 2021-01, which provides a roadmap of investigative processes and case-closing practices of EBSA investigators who conduct Terminated Vested Participants Project (“TVPP”) audits of defined benefit pension plans. One purpose of these audits is to assess whether defined benefit plans have taken appropriate steps to locate missing participants and beneficiaries.
  • EBSA also issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2021-01, which announced the DOL’s temporary enforcement policy on a terminated defined contribution plans’ use of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s expanded missing participants program.

This article focuses on the guidance for ongoing plans (and not Field Assistance Bulletin 2021-01 for terminated plans).

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California’s AB 685 Expands Employers’ COVID-19 Notification Requirements, Effective January 1

Effective January 1, 2021, California employers will be required under Assembly Bill (AB) 685 to provide detailed notices to employees when there is a COVID-19 case in the workplace and to notify local public health departments of COVID-19 “outbreaks” in the workplace.  California employers should begin assessing their practices now to ensure that they will be ready to comply with AB 685 come January 1.

Below is a summary of the key requirements under AB 685 and recent California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance on AB 685, including FAQs and definitions.

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California Employers Must Comply with New Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Workplace Safety Standards

On November 30, 2020, emergency temporary COVID-19 workplace standards (“ETS”) issued by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) took effect.  The ETS, which requires stringent workplace protocols intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, applies to all California employers, other than those subject to the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Disease standard or those with only one employee at the workplace who does not have contact with others.  Under the ETS, employers must adopt and implement a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program that includes identification and correction of COVID-19 risks, employee screening, investigation of cases, use of face coverings and other protective equipment, exclusion of exposed employees, and provision of free COVID-19 testing in certain circumstances, among other requirements.  The ETS also mandates testing and other action when there are multiple infections or an “outbreak” in a workplace.

Cal/OSHA promptly published a “Frequently Asked Questions” document (“FAQs”), a one-page summary of the ETS, and a Model Prevention Plan.  These documents shed additional light on the ETS and how it might be enforced.

Below is an overview of the key takeaways from the new ETS and subsequent Cal/OSHA publications.

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Final Rules Require Health Plans to Publicly Disclose Reimbursement Rates

On October 29, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury released the final “Transparency in Coverage” rule. The rule requires most group health plans and issuers to provide individualized cost-sharing information to participants, beneficiaries and enrollees upon request, and to publicly disclose in-network provider negotiated rates, historical out-of-network allowed amounts and drug pricing information. The final rule also amends the medical loss ratio (MLR) rules to allow issuers to receive credit in the calculations for savings they share with enrollees utilizing lower-cost, higher value providers.

The final regulations are similar to the proposed regulations issued on November 15, 2019 (described in this previous blog post). While the proposed rule had included a request for information regarding how providing quality measurements and reporting could be used to complement cost-sharing information, the final rules do not address health care quality and continue to focus on price transparency.

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California’s New FSA Notice Requirement Leaves Employers Asking Questions

Employers that have employees residing in California are now required by AB 1554 to provide notification in two different forms to employees about deadlines for withdrawing funds from flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”).  One of the forms of notification may be electronic.  Examples of permissible notification forms include: e-mail, telephone, text message, mail, or in-person.  The notice requirement purports to apply to all FSAs, including dependent care FSAs, health care FSAs, and adoption assistance FSAs.  Virtually all other aspects of implementing the law are left open to interpretation.

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Extension of the UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

On Saturday 31 October, the UK Government announced a new national lockdown and confirmed the extension of the existing Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly referred to as the “furlough” scheme.

In this alert, we set out what the UK Government has announced and what this means in terms of the support available to employers, including the status of the Job Support Scheme (the “JSS”), which was originally due to replace the furlough scheme from yesterday.

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IRS Updates Guidance on Qualified Plan Distributions to State Unclaimed Property Funds

The IRS recently published new guidance on the tax withholding and reporting consequences associated with qualified retirement plan distributions to state unclaimed property funds.  In Revenue Ruling 2020-24, the IRS clarified that distributions from qualified retirement plans to state unclaimed property funds are subject to both federal income tax withholding and 1099-R reporting requirements.  In a companion revenue procedure, Rev. Proc. 2020-46, the IRS permitted taxpayers to self-certify for a waiver of the 60-day deadline for rolling over funds between qualified plans when the funds had been distributed to a state unclaimed property fund.

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California to Require Annual Pay Data Reporting to DFEH

In an effort to close gender and racial pay gaps, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill (SB) 973 to require certain California employers to submit an annual pay data report to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) starting next year. The new law largely mirrors the EEO-1 “Component 2” pay data reporting requirement, which was imposed by the Obama administration and has been suspended by the Trump administration.

Under SB 973, private employers that have 100 or more employees and are required to file an annual Employer Information Report (EEO-1) must submit a pay data report to the DFEH covering the prior calendar year. The report must include: (1) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex in each of ten job categories (the same job categories used in the EEO-1); (2) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics; and (3) the total number of hours worked by each employee counted in each pay band. Employers with multiple establishments in California must submit a report for each establishment and a consolidated report that includes all employees. Employees include all individuals on payroll, whether full- or part-time, for whom the employer must withhold federal social security taxes and include in an EEO-1 Report.

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New York Employees May Begin Using New Paid Sick Leave Benefits on January 1, 2021

New York State’s new paid sick leave law (“NYSSL”) took effect on September 30, 2020, requiring employers to allow employees to begin accruing paid sick leave benefits immediately.  Employees may use their accrued leave under the NYSSL starting January 1, 2021.  In response to its state law counterpart, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed into law certain amendments to the existing NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law (“NYCPSL”), also known as the Earned Sick and Safe Time Act, to align the NYCPSL with the NYSSL.

As discussed below, the NYSSL and NYCPSL impose similar paid sick leave requirements on employers, though the amendments to the NYCPSL expand employers’ obligations and strengthen New York City’s enforcement mechanisms.

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New California COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Bill Creates Disputable Presumption and New Reporting Requirements

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill (SB) 1159, which adds COVID-19-related illness or death to the list of injuries covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program and creates new employer reporting responsibilities. The law codifies and extends Executive Order N-62-20, which was issued on May 6, 2020 and created a rebuttable presumption that employees with a COVID-19-related illness on or before July 5, 2020 contracted the virus at work and were eligible for workers’ compensation. The new law is retroactive to July 6, 2020 and expires on January 1, 2023.

Disputable Presumption for COVID-19 Cases During Workplace “Outbreaks”

Workers’ compensation generally provides benefits for employees who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment. Given the wide reach of COVID-19, however, it may be difficult to identify where the employee was exposed to the coronavirus for the purposes of showing that their exposure was caused by and arose out of their employment. In California, however, SB 1159 creates a “disputable presumption” that a COVID-19-related illness arose out of and in the course of employment, and is thus compensable, for employees who test positive during a COVID-19 “outbreak” at the employee’s “specific place of employment,” and whose employer has five or more employees. The new law specifies that workers’ compensation awarded for COVID-19 claims includes “full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits.”

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