Avoid the culture wars and legal issues post-transaction. Join our lawyers Kristin E. Michaels, Maureen O’Brien and moderator Judith Wethall for a discussion of how to best integrate employees and employee benefit plans after a transaction.

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The increased focus on issues of harassment is putting corporate culture under a microscope. Corporate management and board members—regardless of whether the entity is private, public or charitable—must adjust the way they think about harassment in the workplace and how to respond to allegations of misconduct.

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Join us Wednesday, March 21 at 1:00 pm (EDT) for an in-depth webinar on navigating cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Partners Alexander Lee and Maureen O’Brien along with Rob Wellner from Velocity Global will be presenting the unique tax, employment, benefits and executive compensation issues that arise during and after a global transaction. With these insights, participants will learn how to manage challenges associated with M&A activities and implement new solutions that streamline the process.

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On February 26, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (covering Connecticut, New York and Vermont) ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The language of Title VII does not expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, in 2015, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took the position that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination under the purview of prohibited sex discrimination. In 2016, the EEOC began filing sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits enforcing that position.

Circuit courts are divided on the question of whether claims of sexual orientation discrimination are viable under Title VII. In March of 2017, the Eleventh Circuit held that sexual orientation discrimination does not violate Title VII. The Seventh Circuit held the opposite the following month, and the Supreme Court declined to decide the split in December. With its en banc decision in Melissa Zarda et al. v. Altitude Express, dba Skydive Long Island, et al., the Second Circuit sided with the EEOC and the Seventh Circuit.

As a result of the decision, employers may see increased litigation in the area of sexual orientation discrimination. To protect against potential lawsuits, employers should consider updating their nondiscrimination policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, employers should perform sexual orientation harassment training for employees and managers.

The decision also raises potential concerns for employee benefit plans. Although the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) generally preempts state laws that relate to employee benefit plans, ERISA does not preempt other federal laws, including Title VII. While certain spousal benefits and rights under qualified retirement plans are required by federal law to be extended to same-sex spouses, the same explicit mandates do not apply to welfare plans. Employers should consider whether any of their employee benefit plans discriminate against employees with same-sex spouses (e.g., excluding same-sex spouses from coverage under a self-funded medical plan). Such distinctions may be ripe for legal action as a result of the decision and the EEOC’s ongoing enforcement efforts.

The ESOP industry is paying close attention to a Tenth Circuit appeal that will address the deferral of corporate deductions for certain accrued expenses payable to ESOP-participating employees. This appeal, which pertains to an underlying tax court opinion, Petersen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (decided June 13, 2017), is critically important to certain ESOP-owned S corporations for tax planning and other purposes.

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 267(a)(2) defers deductions for expenses paid by a taxpayer to a “related person” until the payments are includible in the related person’s gross income. IRC Section 267(c) sets out constructive ownership rules for purposes of determining if certain persons are “related persons.” Section 267(c) provides that stock owned, directly or indirectly, by a trust shall be considered as being owned proportionately by its shareholders. In Peterson v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court addressed whether an ESOP trust is a “trust” for purposes of IRC Section 267(c).

Continue Reading A Matter of Trusts: Tenth Circuit to Decide Important ESOP Case

On February 9, 2018, President Trump signed a bipartisan budget deal into law, effectively extending federal funding through March 23, 2018. The act includes multiple provisions affecting employee benefit plans, including relaxed hardship withdrawal rules and relief for individuals affected by the California wildfires.

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McDermott’s Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group provides benefit professionals with tools to better serve employees in an ever-changing and evolving benefits landscape.

Presentations will tackle the latest benefits hot topics and best practice solutions, supplemented with important networking opportunities aimed to connect tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

Planned agenda topics include:

  • What’s Happening in Washington?
  • Lessons from an RFP
  • Lunch Discussion: Changing Behavior through Benefits Communication
  • Global Benefit Plans
  • Moderated Group Discussion (including Voluntary Benefits)

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Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) previously limited the tax deduction to $1M annually for covered employee compensation paid by a company that is publicly traded, subject to some important exceptions. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modified the reach of Code Section 162(m) in several significant ways.

  • Expanding the number of companies to which Section 162(m) will apply, including non-public companies that register debt or equity securities with the Securities and Exchange Commission, like foreign companies publicly traded through American depositary receipts (ADRs);
  • Expanding the number of covered employees to five and including the chief financial officer, with a provision that any covered employee after 2016 permanently remains a covered employee;
  • Eliminating performance-based and commission-based exceptions to the $1M deduction limit; and
  • Grandfathering certain compensation provided under a written and binding agreement in effect on November 2, 2017, if no material changes are made to such agreement.

These changes will have a significant effect not just on performance-based compensation, but also on stock options, stock appreciation rights and even nonqualified deferred compensation plans and supplemental executive retirement plans. To navigate these changes, Andrew Liazos stressed the importance of understanding the new grandfathering provisions under Section 162(m) and their corresponding planning opportunities at the Mid-Year Meeting of the American Bar Association’s Tax Section on February 10, 2018 in the attached slides.

Patrick McCurry and Todd Solomon wrote this bylined article on how family offices are using sophisticated techniques to compensate their employees in a tax-efficient manner. “We expect to see the continued use of equity to deliver tax-efficient compensation to family office employees while aligning the economic interests and incentives of the family and the family office’s key employees,” the authors wrote.

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Originally published in Tax Executive, February 1, 2018.