The tax extenders legislation (formally called the “Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014“) signed into law on December 17 included a one-year extension of “parity” for the limits on tax-exempt mass transit and parking benefits.  The change retroactively increases the limit on pre-tax mass transit benefits, which means that it affects the information that must be reported on Form W-2 for 2014 (generally due January 31, 2015) and tax refunds are available.

Employers with transportation benefit programs should watch for guidance and consider adjustments that might be required before filing Form 941 for the fourth quarter and issuing Forms W-2 for 2014.


Continue Reading Increase to Transit Reimbursement Limits Might Necessitate Corrective Tax Filings

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new enforcement guidance explaining when an employer’s policies affecting pregnant employees might violate federal law.  The new guidance appears in an updated chapter of the EEOC’s enforcement manual, and in a related set of questions and answers.  Among other topics, the new guidance addresses the rights of pregnant employees under employer health plans, fringe benefit programs, and other benefit plans.
Continue Reading EEOC Issues New Guidance on Pregnancy Benefits

If an employee assistance program (“EAP”) provides counseling for substance abuse, stress, depression, and similar health problems, the Labor Department and IRS regard it as a group health plan.  Unless the EAP qualifies for an exception, it will have difficulty complying with the group health plan coverage requirements and other mandates.

Recent guidance from the federal regulatory agencies gives many EAPs a “free pass” for 2014, and creates new compliance options for 2015 and beyond.  In order to keep their EAPs in compliance after 2014, employers might need to make design changes or satisfy other new requirements.  EAP sponsors should take this opportunity to review their compliance options and develop a compliance strategy.
Continue Reading Compliance Strategies for Employee Assistance Programs

Starting in 2014, most individuals must maintain minimum essential health coverage or pay a penalty.  (Please see our post here for a description of the health coverage mandates that apply to individuals and their families.)  The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a proposed regulation clarifying the minimum essential coverage rules and other aspects of the individual mandate.  Several points addressed in the proposed regulation will be of interest to employers that offer group health coverage to their employees.

Excepted Benefits Are Not Minimum Essential Coverage

Employers might wish to structure programs providing limited health benefits—such as dental and vision coverage or employee assistance—as “excepted benefits” so that these programs will avoid the group health plan requirements.  Final regulations issued last year explained that minimum essential coverage does not include “health insurance coverage” consisting only of excepted benefits.  The proposed regulation clarifies that no coverage (whether insured or self-insured) consisting solely of excepted benefits will qualify as minimum essential coverage.

This clarification confirms that coverage consisting solely of excepted benefits will not satisfy the employer’s obligation to offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees or the individual’s obligation to maintain minimum essential coverage.  Employers must offer, and individuals must maintain, other group health coverage in order to satisfy these shared-responsibility mandates.

On the positive side, however, a lower-income employee who is covered by a plan that offers only excepted benefits will not be prevented from receiving premium tax credits.  The tax credits help lower-income individuals purchase individual health coverage on an exchange.  An employee who has minimum essential coverage from an employer health plan is not eligible for premium tax credits; but employer coverage consisting solely of excepted benefits will not affect the employee’s eligibility.
Continue Reading New Guidance Clarifies Minimum Essential Coverage Rules

The IRS issued a notice today setting forth special procedures by which employers may claim a refund of FICA taxes that were paid on employee benefits solely because of the application of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).  Section 3 of DOMA prohibited the IRS from recognizing same-sex marriages for federal tax purposes and was struck down by the Supreme Court last June in a case called United States v. Windsor.  Prior to the Windsor decision, employers paid the employer’s share of FICA tax, withheld the employee’s share of FICA tax, and withheld income tax with respect to benefits for same-sex spouses of employees when the benefits could be provided tax-free to employees’ opposite-sex spouses.  In large part, the benefits at issue are health benefits, although certain tuition and other benefits also might have been taxed solely on account of DOMA.  Following the Windsor decision, refunds now may be obtained.
Continue Reading IRS Issues Special Administrative Procedures for DOMA Tax Refund Claims by Employers

The IRS issued guidance today defining same-sex marriage for purposes of federal tax rules.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor last June invalidating section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law no longer limits the definition of marriage to opposite sex spouses.  However, the Windsor decision did not

Earlier today in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).  Section 3 of DOMA limits the definition of marriage for purposes of federal law to marriage between individuals of the opposite sex.   The Court held that DOMA deprives same sex couples of due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.   The Court’s ruling applies to marriages recognized under state law;   the Court did not address whether the Constitution requires states to recognize same sex marriage.

The Court’s opinion notes that DOMA affects over “1,000 statutes and numerous federal regulations.”   Many of the affected statutes and regulations relate to employee benefits.  As a result, the decision is likely to affect the benefits provided under employee benefit plans and the tax treatment those benefits receive.  In some cases, the Court’s decision could have implications for benefits that have already been paid. We encourage employers to review their benefit plans and plan administration to identify changes that might be required or desirable as a result of the ruling.
Continue Reading Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision Has Significant Implications for Employers and Employee Benefit Plans

Our colleagues at InsidePrivacy recently observed that employers are increasingly giving employees access to work email and apps on their personal devices.  In a recent survey, 38 percent of CIOs said that their organizations will stop providing laptops, smartphones, and tablets to workers by 2016.  As our colleagues noted, Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policies

The United States government narrowly avoided falling over the so-called “fiscal cliff” by enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”).  ATRA’s impact on tax rates has been covered extensively in the national media.  ATRA also included several employee benefit provisions that are of interest to employers and their employees. 
Continue Reading Fiscal Cliff Legislation Extends Tax Advantages for Popular Fringe Benefits, Expands In-Plan Roth 401(k) Conversions