Supreme Court Closes Door to Participant Challenges to Defined Benefit Plan Investments

The extent to which a participant in a tax-qualified defined benefit plan has standing to sue the plan’s fiduciaries for mismanagement of plan assets has long been unclear. The argument against standing is that the participant has not suffered any injury because the participant would receive the same benefit from the plan regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.

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Electronic Disclosure Rule for Pension Plans Finalized

On May 27, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL” or “Department”) published a final rule providing an alternative safe harbor for furnishing ERISA pension plan disclosures electronically on a website or via email.  We previously blogged about the proposed rule here.  This post provides an overview of the final rule and highlights some key changes from the proposed rule.

As we previously noted, electronic disclosure has been permitted since 2002 under a safe harbor that allows plan administrators to electronically disclose ERISA documents to individuals who are “wired at work” or individuals who have affirmatively consented to electronic delivery.  This new safe harbor is an alternative to the 2002 safe harbor.  Plan administrators of pension plans may rely on either the new safe harbor, the 2002 safe harbor, both, or neither.  Significantly, however, the new safe harbor is limited to pension plans.  The 2002 safe harbor remains available for welfare plans.

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U.S. Supreme Court Holds Title VII Prohibits Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In an important civil rights development, the U.S. Supreme Court today issued a 6-3 opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, holding that gay and transgender employees are protected under the prohibition against workplace sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).  Justice Gorsuch delivered the majority opinion, joined by Justices Roberts, Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Dissenting opinions were filed by Justices Alito (joined by Thomas) and Kavanaugh.

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Much Ado About Nothing Much New: IRS Issues GLAM Addressing Payroll Taxation of Equity Compensation

On May 22, 2020, the IRS released a Generic Legal Advice Memorandum, GLAM 2020-004, which addresses the timing of the taxation and withholding of payroll taxes on certain stock-settled awards issued to employees.  Specifically, the GLAM focuses on the treatment of stock options, stock-settled stock appreciation rights (SARs), and stock-settled restricted stock units (RSUs).

Employers should be aware that the GLAM does not appear to alter the Service’s existing position with respect to such awards — the fair market value of the stock underlying the award is includible in gross income when the stock is deemed transferred to the employee.  However, the GLAM does appear to offer some additional insight into the timing of income inclusion with respect to RSUs.  Perhaps most importantly, the GLAM reiterates the IRS’s 2003 administrative position regarding the application of late deposit penalties to payroll tax deposits due on the exercise of nonqualified stock options.  A question had arisen regarding whether SEC guidance shortening the standard settlement cycle for securities transactions to two business days had the effect of shortening the period for depositing payroll taxes.  Deposits owed with respect to option exercises will continue to be deemed timely if deposited within one day of settlement, so long as settlement occurs within three days of the exercise date.

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IRS Empowers Employers to Increase Health Coverage, FSA Election Flexibility During Pandemic; Clarifies HDHP COVID-19 Relief

On May 12, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) published Notices 2020-29 and 2020-33. Notice 2020-29 is the latest installment in COVID-19 relief guidance targeted at health and welfare benefits. The Notice enables employers to provide flexibility to employees to modify their health coverage and flexible spending account (“FSA”) elections and gives employees until the end of 2020 (but not 2021) to use certain FSA amounts that may otherwise be forfeited. Unlike certain COVID-19 relief related to retirement plans, employers may make the relief under Notice 2020-29 available to all participants, regardless of whether they have suffered a COVID-19-related loss.

Notice 2020-33 allows employers to adopt an indexed maximum carryover amount for health FSAs, beginning with amounts that may be carried over from the 2020 plan year to the 2021 plan year.

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Tri-Agency Guidance Clarifies Some FFCRA and CARES Act Health & Welfare Provisions

On April 11, 2020, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services issued joint guidance on certain provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act relating to health and welfare benefits.  This post analyzes some of the key provisions in the guidance.

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CARES Act Expands COVID-19 Testing and Other Health and Welfare Benefits

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the largest economic stimulus bill in U.S. history: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”).  In this blog article, we take a closer look at the provisions affecting health and welfare plans.

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Unemployment Insurance Benefits under the CARES Act

In response to the growing unemployment numbers due to business slowdowns across the country, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to workers impacted by COVID-19.  The move is no doubt well intentioned, but serious questions have been raised about the specific benefit design adopted by Congress and the ability of state unemployment agencies—hardly models of efficiency in the best of times—to respond to the deluge of claims now inundating them.  In fact, one of the potentially most attractive UI features in the new law—its short-time compensation provisions—seems likely to face serious obstacles to implementation due to lack of administrative resources and the vagaries of state law.

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The CARES Act and Short-Time Compensation Programs

As reported in our Client Alert, the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes provisions to increase the use of short-time compensation (STC) programs (also known as work sharing or shared-work programs). Section 2108 of the CARES Act provides federal funding for 100% of the STC paid by states with programs already in place. In addition, Section 2109 provides federal funding for 50% of the STC paid by states that currently do not have formal programs but implement arrangements, and Section 2110 provides grants for implementing and improving STC programs.

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