Phase 2 HIPAA Audits Are Underway

The US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will soon begin a second phase of audits for compliance with HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification standards as required by the HITECH Act. In this second phase, OCR will audit both covered entities and their business associates, unlike the pilot audits of 2011 and 2012, which focused on covered entities alone. This On the Subject details practical steps that covered entities, including employer-sponsored group health plans, and their business associates can take to prepare for a potential audit.

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View From McDermott: Conduct Regular Reviews to Ensure Compliance with FICA Tax Withholding Rules

Sponsors of nonqualified deferred compensation plans should pay close attention to the special tax withholding rules under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) to avoid paying interest and penalties, and potentially being sued by plan participants. FICA tax on nonqualified deferred compensation must be withheld when compensation vests, not later when actually paid out. Failure to withhold FICA tax at the time of vesting will cause the compensation plus any earnings to be subject to FICA tax later as it is distributed to the participant, potentially resulting in higher overall FICA taxes for both the employer and the participant. As shown by the case of Davidson v. Henkel, employees may even successfully sue the employer for causing them to receive lower benefits due to the higher tax burden created by a failure to follow the correct withholding rules.

This article explores the common FICA and Additional Medicare Tax withholding errors and the potential remedies that may be available to employers who fail to timely withhold FICA and/or Additional Medicare Tax on nonqualified deferred compensation.

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Two Adverse Decisions against Church Plans Reached at Appellate Court Level

Since 2014, large church-controlled health systems that offer defined benefit pension plans have seen lawsuits filed as to whether such plans are eligible to qualify for the ERISA church-plan exemption, which governs those arrangements. When a retirement plan meets the ERISA church-plan exemption, it is exempt from the typical funding and vesting requirements of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code as well as from the ERISA reporting and disclosure requirements. As the church-plan litigation moves to the appellate level, two adverse decisions are reached denying ERISA church-plan exemption to two health systems.

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The Department of Labor Issues Proposed Regulations Implementing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced its proposed regulations to implement Executive Order (EO) 13706, establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors. The proposed regulations describe the categories of contracts and employees covered by the EO, the rules and restrictions regarding the accrual and use of such paid sick leave, the obligations of contracting agencies, and the available remedies and enforcement procedures.

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Summary of Benefits and Coverage Templates Finalized

On April 6, 2016, the US Department of Labor posted final versions of the updated summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) template and instructions, updated uniform glossary and other associated materials. In previous guidance, the US Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services provided that health plans and issuers who maintain an open enrollment period will be required to start using the new template and associated documents on the first day of the open enrollment period beginning on or after April 1, 2017, with respect to coverage for the plan year or policy year that begins on or after April 1, 2017. Health plans and issuers who do not use an open enrollment period should begin using these documents on the first day of the first plan year or policy year that begins on or after April 1, 2017.

Employers should begin preparations to ensure that the finalized documents are ready for distribution by the required implementation date. Health plans and issuers with calendar year plans and open enrollment periods must be ready to use the new documents during the 2017 open enrollment period for coverage that begins on January 1, 2018. Health plans and issuers with calendar year plans and no open enrollment period should be prepared to use the documents by January 1, 2018.

DOL Official Says Office Is Investigating Large Defined Benefit Plans Regarding Locating and Paying Terminated Vested Participants

Recent comments from an official with the Department of Labor (DOL) indicate that the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has begun investigating large defined benefit plans to review how plan administrators are keeping track of benefits owed to terminated vested participants and if they are really paying participants like they should be.  According to the February 2, 2015 BNA Pension & Benefits Reporter, Elizabeth Hopkins, counsel for appellate and special litigation for the DOL’s Office of the Solicitor, Plan Benefits Security Division, stated at a pension conference that EBSA is interested in monitoring whether plan administrators are following their own procedures to locate and pay out terminated vested participants.  In particular, EBSA is investigating how plan administrators locate and pay out terminated vested participants over the age of 70 ½ who are owed required minimum distributions.

Defined benefit pension plans must provide that they will distribute benefits beginning no later than the required beginning date, which for most plan participants means April 1 of the calendar year following the later of (i) the calendar year in which a participant turns 70 ½ or (2) the calendar year in which the participant retires.  As we noted in our recent article on the “Top IRS and DOL Audit Issues for Retirement Plans,” plan sponsors have a fiduciary duty to try to locate missing participants, to contact terminated vested participants, and to begin distributing benefits within required timeframes.  Failure to pay required minimum distributions after a participant turns 70 ½ is a plan qualification error, and participants who miss required distributions may be subject to a 50 percent excise tax.  The DOL has also indicated that it may impose personal liability on plan fiduciaries for any tax consequences owed to their employees.  For all of these reasons, it is crucial that plan sponsors ensure that proper procedures are in place, and that plan procedures are being followed, to locate and contact terminated vested participants.

EEOC Files Lawsuits Against Employers for Sex Discrimination Under Title VII

For the first time, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing private employers on behalf of employees alleging sexual orientation discrimination. On March 1, 2016, the EEOC issued a press release announcing it has filed its first two sexual orientation lawsuits alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

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Fiduciary Issues and Data Privacy: Is Your Plan Data Really Safe?

Despite the fact that Personally Identifiable Information (PII) definitions are continuously broadening with the addition of new data elements, and proposed federal legislation aims to reconcile state laws, security breach threats remain.

Review the full presentation here.

UK Employment Alert: Increase in UK Employment Protection Awards and New Mandatory National Living Wage

The compensation limits on Employment Tribunal awards and certain other amounts payable under UK employment legislation will be increased as of April 6, 2016.

Read the full UK Employment Alert.

 

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