Score on Wellness Lawsuits—Wellness Plans 3, EEOC 0?

On September 19, 2017, in the ongoing lawsuit the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought against Orion Energy Systems Inc. (Orion) regarding its wellness program, a Wisconsin federal judge found that Orion’s wellness program was voluntary. The employees have a choice between participating in the program or paying the full price for health benefits. The final results of this case remain to be seen since the judge also held that the EEOC can apply its new rules on such wellness programs retroactivity.

Section 457(f) Proposed Regulations – Not What We Expected (In a Good Way)

The very long awaited release of the new proposed regulations for Internal Revenue Code (the ‘‘Code’’) Section 457(f) plans arrived at the end of June and presents welcome and surprising new opportunities with respect to tax-exempt and governmental entities’ ‘‘ineligible nonqualified deferred compensation’’ arrangements.

The Proposed Regulations present some unexpected and surprising opportunities with respect to the ability to electively defer compensation and to have deferred compensation paid out, contingent on a valid covenant not to compete and upon a rolling risk of forfeiture.

Read the full article here to learn more.

Top Universities Hit with Retirement Plan Lawsuits: Lessons for Plan Sponsors

The recent wave of 403(b) lawsuits against more than a dozen prominent US universities could herald similar suits for other 403(b) plan sponsors. Plan sponsors can minimize their risk by reviewing their plan governance procedures, investment policy statements, and plan investment lineup and fee structure.

Read the full article here to learn more.

The Impact of the EU Data Protection Regulation

The EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 4 May 2016 following the compromise agreed among the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament.

The GDPR will essentially affect any business coming into contact with European personal data.

Read the full article here to learn of the impact and next steps.

Reports on Increase in Retirement Plan Audits Further Illustrate the Need for Plan Sponsors to Focus on Administrative Compliance

Recent reports show that the number of retirement plan audits by government agencies is increasing. A survey released by Willis Towers Watson indicates that one in every three plan sponsors has experienced a retirement plan audit by a government agency in the past two years. Unofficial reports also indicate that the US Department of Labor (DOL) has added staff to conduct more retirement plan audits.

The increase in audit activity is not surprising after the DOL released its report last year on the quality of audit work performed by independent qualified public accountants. That report—“Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits”—found that nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) employee benefit plan audits completed by independent qualified public accountants for the 2011 filing year contained “major deficiencies with respect to one or more relevant GAAS requirements” which “would lead to rejection of a Form 5500 filing.” Common audit deficiencies cited in the DOL report include insufficient review of plan documents and administration, failure to obtain evidence of required communications to participants, inadequate review of employee eligibility, participant accruals and non-discrimination testing, and failure to obtain evidence of adequate internal controls.

The reports of increased audit activity and the DOL findings on the quality of plan audits illustrate the importance for plan sponsors to continually monitor their employee benefit plans for compliance with the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. Plan sponsors and fiduciaries may erroneously assume that once the independent audit is complete they can rest assured that the plan complies with legal requirements. However, an independent audit is not enough—plan sponsors have a fiduciary obligation to ensure their plans are properly maintained and administered beyond what is required to complete the annual audit.

For a summary of the most common issues under audit examination, please see our article on the “Top IRS and DOL Audit Issues for Retirement Plans.” The article describes numerous steps plan sponsors should take to review their plans to identify problems that come up on Internal Revenue Service and DOL audits, and to make sure they have proper internal controls to avoid those problems in the future. Regular review of these issues and proper focus on internal controls can help prevent costly fines and fees when a government agency audits a plan.

UK Employment Alert: Changes To The Taxation Of Termination Payments

The government has published its response to feedback received on its proposals to simplify the taxation of termination payments, expected to come into force in April 2018.

The following table sets out the main proposals and the effect these will have on employers. Importantly, there is no change to the current £30,000 tax free allowance.

 

Proposal Change Effect
1. Termination payments above £30,000 to be subject to employer National Insurance contributions (NICs). Currently, termination payments above £30,000 only attract income tax, not NICs.
While employer NICs will be payable under the proposal, employee NICs won’t.
At 13.8%, the addition of employer NICs could add a not inconsiderable cost to paying a termination payment exceeding £30,000.
2. All payments in lieu of notice (PILONs) (contractual and non-contractual) to be taxed as income. Currently, contractual and non-contractual PILONs are taxed differently.

Contractual PILONs (that are provided for in the employment contract) are treated as earnings and subject to income tax and both employer and employee NICs.  Non-contractual PILONs, which are paid in the absence of the contractual right to do so, are subject to income tax, but not NICs.

It isn’t always straightforward to determine whether a PILON is contractual or not given that HMRC can also have regard to the regularity with which the employer pays PILONs.

This clarification is actually welcome given the differences in opinion which can arise when negotiating a settlement agreement.

3. Injury to feelings awards (such as for harassment or discrimination) will not qualify for general injury tax exemptions. There is an exemption to income tax on termination payments, in addition to the £30,000 threshold, when a payment is made because of death, disability or injury of the employee.

It is currently unclear whether injury to feelings awards qualify for the exemption as there have been contradictory decisions on the point.

This proposal would provide additional welcome clarity, but in common with all 3 proposals, means increased cost to employers.

These changes are likely to come into force in April 2018. Given that items 2 and 3 in the table clarify points that are currently argued either way, a prudent employer might want to veer on the side of caution when considering those issues before April 2018.

Lauren Goda (Trainee) contributed to this article.

The Privacy Shield: September 30, 2016, Deadline for Early Self-Certification Offers Compliance Opportunity and Risk

The European Commission recently determined that the Privacy Shield Framework is adequate to legitimize data transfers under EU law, providing a replacement for the Safe Harbor program. The Privacy Shield is designed to provide organizations on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States. Organizations that apply for Privacy Shield self-certification by September 30, 2016, will be granted a nine-month grace period to conform their contracts with third-party processors to the Privacy Shield’s new onward transfer requirements.

Read the full article here.

Brexit Update: The Effect of Brexit on Data Transfers between the United Kingdom and the European Union

With the United Kingdom having voted to leave the European Union (Brexit) on 23 June 2016, the free flow of personal data between the United Kingdom and EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries is at risk. Should the United Kingdom also leave the EEA and thus become a “third country” for the purposes of data transfers, EU/EEA businesses that are currently retaining UK service providers or data centres to handle or store personal data, or are planning to do so, would have to carefully re-evaluate this decision.

Read the full article here.

Affordable Care Act Compliance: IRS Releases Draft 2016 Employer Reporting Forms and Instructions

On August 2, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released revised draft Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, and draft instructions for completing these forms for the 2016 reporting year (see here). Although these are not final versions, it is important for employers to review the updates and changes from the 2015 forms and instructions as they prepare for the 2016 filings.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new reporting requirements under Sections 6055 and 6056 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). The new rules require an applicable large employer (ALE) to report, on IRS Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, information about offers of health insurance coverage to full-time employees (FTEs) and the provision of minimum essential coverage (MEC). The Form 1094-C is also referred to as the “authoritative transmittal.” For 2016, an ALE is generally an employer with 50 or more FTE equivalents. Under Code Section 6056, an ALE must annually file with the IRS a report listing the offers of coverage made to its FTEs during the reporting year. In addition, ALEs must furnish a related statement of coverage information to FTEs. Under Code Section 6055, employers (including ALEs) who provide MEC under self-insured plans must also report MEC information for each individual covered under the employer’s self-insured plan. ALE status is determined on a controlled group basis, and each member of the controlled group is an “ALE Member” with an independent responsibility to file a Form 1094-C and Form 1095-Cs. Generally, the reporting is required at the employer identification number (EIN) level.

Under Code Section 6055, employers that are not ALEs must report MEC information on Forms 1094-B and 1095-B. Although these forms were also revised recently, draft instructions for completing these forms have not yet been released.

Read the full article here for the upcoming changes in detail, when to file and next steps to plan for.

 

Advantages of Using ESOPs To Structure Acquisitions and Divestitures In An Uncertain Economy

M&A advisors are becoming increasingly familiar with leveraged ESOP transactions and are routinely considering the ESOP platform in structuring acquisitions and divestitures.  The first part of this article references the ways in which leveraged ESOPs have historically been used to provide a tax-advantaged exit strategy for privately held business owners. The article then discusses the advantages the leveraged ESOP structure can bring to M&A advisors and private equity groups charged with structuring acquisitions and divestitures during a down economy.

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