The Internal Revenue Service and the Security Summit partners recently issued a news release outlining the “Security Six,” a list of essential steps to protect stored employee information on networks and computers. Employee benefits professionals, including those who administer welfare and retirement plans for employees and beneficiaries, should review and implement the “Security Six” in order to protect sensitive data from cyberattacks.

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We would also like to thank law clerk Charnae Supplee for contributing to this article.

Tax reform made many structural changes to our tax system. Changes to Code Section 274, however, sent shudders through corporate America. As amended, Code Section 274 eliminated the 50 percent deduction for “entertainment” expenses that are related to business activities. Sadly, gone are the days of companies deducting the cost of box tickets to games for the local sport’s team. Gulp! But, in its haste, Congress left what constitutes entertainment expenses substantially undefined. Accordingly, a strict reading of the statute meant—along with the box seats—went the hot dogs and beer! Ugh! So, under this strict interpretation, taking your client to the fancy restaurant to encourage her to buy your product or services would no longer be deductible.

Thankfully, the IRS has recently clarified that meals are not entertainment under amended Code section 274. IRS Notice 2018-76 explains that business meals arestill eligible for the 50 percent deduction if they are not lavish and extravagant. And an IRS press release, IR-2018-195, explains that the IRS will release proposed regulations explaining what “entertainment” means.

Practice Point: We can all sigh with relief that Uncle Sam will continue to underwrite the “wining and dining” of our clients. Although eating is officially not entertainment (at least for tax purposes), the recent IRS guidance acknowledges that America does a lot of its business while breaking bread.

During our Tax in the City roundtable event in Dallas, Erin Turley and Judith Wethall presented on the hidden costs in benefit contracts. They provided attendees with a checklist of what to look out for in contracts, including services, protection and pricing terms. When negotiating contracts, Erin and Judith recommended establishing a list of needs and objectives, as well as seeking referrals from other similarly situated employers.

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The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 requires employers who offer prescription drug coverage to provide an annual notice to all Medicare Part D eligible individuals who are participants in, or eligible for, the employer’s prescription drug coverage indicating whether such coverage is creditable before October 15th of each year. “Creditable coverage” means that the prescription drug coverage offered by an employer plan is expected to pay, on average for all plan participants, as much as the standard Medicare prescription drug coverage pays. Prescription drug coverage is “non-creditable” when it is not expected to pay, on average for all plan participants, as much as the standard Medicare prescription drug coverage pays.

The notice must be furnished regardless of whether the employer plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare, and must be sent to all Part D eligible individuals including retirees, actives, COBRA beneficiaries and dependents of such individuals. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides Model Disclosure Notices for creditable and non-creditable coverage.

If you would like additional information about this requirement, or if you have any questions, please contact your McDermott lawyer or one of our Benefits attorneys.

Charnae Supplee, a law clerk in the Firm’s Washington, DC office, also contributed to this article.

Socially responsible investing often sounds like an intriguing idea, but investing plan assets in a socially responsible manner is a notoriously tricky proposition. Earlier this year, the US Department of Labor issued additional guidance clarifying existing DOL guidance applicable to socially responsible investment of plan assets. However, the clarifications included in FAB 2018-01 may further limit the scenarios in which socially responsible investing could be considered prudent under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA).

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Join us Friday, October 5 for our monthly Fridays with Benefits webinar on employer options for student loan benefits. Student loan debt is an increasingly significant concern for employees and student loan benefits are becoming an increasingly significant way for employers to attract and retain key talent.

Join members of the McDermott Benefits Team for a discussion on employer options and strategies for employee student loan benefits that your company won’t want to miss! We will address refinancing options, direct financial assistance, and developments in retirement plan designs for benefits tied to student loan repayments.

Friday, October 5, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PDT
11:00 – 11:45 am MDT
12:00 – 12:45 pm CDT
1:00 – 1:45 pm EDT

Register now.

On September 20, 2018, the US Supreme Court dismissed—pursuant to settlement—an ERISA lawsuit that could have resolved the circuit split over who holds the burden of proof in ERISA breach of fiduciary duty cases. In Pioneer Centres Hold. v. Alerus Fin., Case No. 17-677 (2018), the Pioneer Centres Holding Company Employee Stock Ownership Plan and Trust (the “Plan” or “ESOP”) and its trustees sued Alerus Financial, N.A. (Alerus) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the failure of a proposed employee stock purchase. In affirming summary judgment in Alerus’s favor, the Tenth Circuit determined that the Plan carried the burden to prove causation rather than shifting the burden to Alerus to disprove causation once the Plan established a prima facie case. In so holding, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuits that beneficiaries, not fiduciaries, must prove causation between the company’s conduct and the plan’s losses due to a fiduciary breach. The Second, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth circuits disagreed, holding that the burden of proof shifts to the fiduciaries to establish the absence of loss causation once the beneficiaries makes a prima facie case by establishing breach of fiduciary duty and loss. Details of the parties’ settlement were not disclosed.

The settlement and dismissal of this case is disappointing for ERISA litigators because the anticipated resolution regarding burden shifting for loss causation will likely not be resolved in the near future. The outstanding burden shifting inquiry is not limited to the ESOP context. These issues have also been considered in other ERISA cases, such as the 401(k) context. See, e.g., Womack v. Orchids Paper Prod. Co. 401(K) Sav. Plan, 769 F. Supp. 2d 1322, 1334–35 (N.D. Okla. 2011) (acknowledging the burden shifting circuit split in the 401(k) context). Moreover, the lack of resolution will necessarily encourage plaintiffs to continue forum shopping tactics. Thus, the industry may see an increase in ERISA cases filed in the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth circuits, which shift the burden to fiduciaries to establish the absence of loss causation once the plaintiffs make a prima facie case.

Evan Belosa, Tony Bongiorno and Andrew Liazos summarize key changes and important issues associated with Massachusetts Noncompetition and Trade Secret Law and next steps to consider as the date of effectiveness approaches.

The Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act and Trade Secret Law will become effective October 1, 2018.

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During the most recent Tax in the City event in Dallas, Partners Erin Turley and Judith Wethall, presented on the rise of consumer driven health care. Some popular programs they discussed include wellness, smoking cessation, high deductible health plans and HSAs, telemedicine, direct contracting and affordable care organizations. They also discussed the compliance complexities associated with these programs, including ERISA, FLSA and HIPAA privacy concerns.

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US businesses expanding abroad, and international businesses moving into the United States, can find the differences between employment laws both unexpected and costly.

Companies of all sizes are eager to expand their businesses, and their workforce, into new markets. US employers already know that operating in multiple states can feel like operating in different countries because of state- and locality-specific employment laws. But if operating in California versus Wyoming is comparing pools to puddles, then operating in the United States versus other countries is comparing puddles to oceans.

US-based companies looking to expand abroad, and foreign companies opening their first US locations, must proceed with caution before jumping in. One error can commit a business to employing its workforce until retirement, cost months and a small fortune to terminate the employment relationship, or keep it embroiled for years in class action litigation.

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