The Massachusetts legislature’s recent approval of a comprehensive non-competition reform bill includes significant restrictions for employers seeking to impose non-compete obligations on Massachusetts workers. The Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act will become effective on October 1, 2018, leaving little time for employers to consider what actions to take to protect their business interests.
The Internal Revenue Service recently released final regulations confirming that employers can use plan forfeitures to fund qualified non-elective contributions (QNECs), qualified matching contributions (QMACs) and safe harbor contributions.
As explained in our earlier On the Subject discussing this topic, IRS regulations historically provided that QNECs, QMACs and certain safe harbor contributions had to be 100 percent vested at the time the amounts were contributed to an employer’s plan. The IRS interpreted this requirement to prohibit employers from using forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and certain safe harbor contributions. In particular, according to the IRS, using forfeitures for this purpose was impermissible because contributions allocated to a plan’s forfeiture account were subject to a vesting schedule when the contributions were first made to the plan (as employer matching or profit sharing contributions). Therefore, the IRS took the position that forfeitures could never be used to fund QNECs, QMACs or certain safe harbor contributions even if the forfeitures were fully vested at the time they were ultimately re-allocated to participant accounts as QNECs, QMACs or safe harbor contributions.
In response to numerous comments regarding this requirement, the IRS issued proposed regulations in January, 2017 clarifying that QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions were only required to be fully vested at the time the contributions were allocated to participant accounts, rather than when first contributed to the plan. As a result, employers could use forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions.
The final regulations issued late last month confirm the approach outlined in the proposed regulations. Importantly, employers were actually permitted to rely on those proposed regulations immediately. As a result, the final regulations simply confirm that plan sponsors can continue to use forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions. Before doing so, however, plan sponsors should review their plan documents carefully to ensure that the plans allow forfeitures to be used for such purposes.
While momentum may be building for a single-payer health care system in New York, such a dramatic shift in the way health care is financed will have to overcome a number of significant obstacles. With ERISA preemption being one of those hurdles, Andrew Liazos comments, “There will be a challenge from somewhere. I don’t know who will lead the challenge, but I don’t think employer groups will just sit by idly.”
Originally published in Bloomberg Law, August 2018.
During the previous quarter, the SEC acted to expand the number of companies that may rely on the “smaller reporting company” scaled disclosure regime and Congress directed revisions to the Regulation A+ and Rule 701 exemptions. The SEC also took enforcement action on a major cybersecurity breach, reinforcing its recent interpretive guidance on the subject. The director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance also spoke on how blockchain assets may or may not constitute securities, and the 9th Circuit created a circuit split related to securities litigation after a tender offer.
ERISA broadly preempts state laws that “relate to” ERISA-governed employee benefit plans to ensure a uniform federal regulatory scheme and to relieve ERISA plans from the burdens of satisfying a patchwork of state laws. Recently, however, several states have enacted legislation designed to regulate the prices that pharmacy benefit managers, as third-party administrators for ERISA-governed plans, agree to reimburse pharmacies for dispensing prescription drugs to ERISA plan members. These regulations run afoul of ERISA, as the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has twice held.
Kevin Connelly said unions will face an adjustment period as they seek to implement more creative methods of trying to retain dues-paying members. “I wouldn’t underestimate the unions. If someone wants to say this is the end of the day for public-sector unions—nope, not true,” he said. “There will be consequences, but I think the unions that operate in that sector will be clever enough to make the appropriate adjustments.”
Originally published by Law360, June 2018.
A federal judge in Rhode Island recently permitted several claims against Brown University to proceed in a lawsuit alleging that the university and its fiduciaries breached their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), by mismanaging Brown’s defined contribution plans. This decision follows the recent decision in a similar class action lawsuit against Northwestern University (see blog post here) in which a federal judge granted Northwestern a complete victory in its motion to dismiss.
Unlike in that decision, the court in Short v. Brown University allowed plaintiffs to proceed with claims relating to record-keeping services, including engaging more than one record-keeper, incurring excessive administrative fees and failing to conduct a competitive record-keeping bidding process. Of note, the court indicated that whether particular record-keeping fees are excessive involves questions of fact that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss. If other courts were to adopt that line of reasoning, a plaintiff who alleged that any level of fees was excessive could survive a motion to dismiss. The court also permitted plaintiffs to advance claims that Brown chose more expensive funds with poor historical performance, including the CREF Stock Account and the TIAA Real Estate Account.
The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that Brown acted imprudently by offering investment options with multiple layers of fees and using revenue sharing and asset-based fees. Like other courts that have ruled on class action lawsuits against fiduciaries of university defined contribution retirement plans, the Brown court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that Brown acted imprudently by including too many investment choices in its lineup.
Andrew Liazos said that it makes sense for companies to consider Q-SERPs in response to the end of the performance-based pay deduction, but he questioned whether the plans would offer much “bang for your buck.” “You first have to deal with the obvious time and effort you have to spend to show it’s not discriminatory, and then take a certain level of risk that the rules aren’t going to change,” he said.
Originally published in Tax Notes Today, July 2018.
Recent litigation and audit activity is focusing on the process undertaken by fiduciaries in connection with a transaction involving an ESOP. Eliot Burriss presented at the 2018 National Center for Employee Ownership Conference summarizing relevant litigation cases, exploring roles and responsibilities, and providing best practices.
More companies are considering paying their employees in tokens such as Bitcoin. The Japanese GMO group and the German Digitalmagazin t3n, for example, have announced that they plan to pay their employees in Bitcoin. This trend gives rise to the question: Are there restrictions under German employment law that companies must take into account?