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Erin Turley focuses her practice on employee benefits matters. She has extensive experience handling issues pertaining to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). Read Erin Turley's full bio.

Through a series of recent settlements, the US Department of Labor has outlined the process steps fiduciaries should follow in connection with a transaction involving a purchase from, or sale to, an employee stock ownership plan.

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Since the announcement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that sponsors of individually designed retirement plans may no longer receive a periodic determination letter, plan sponsors have faced uncertainty about how to demonstrate compliance for their retirement plans. Our McDermott Retirement Plan Compliance Program, a new opinion letter and operational review program for individually designed 401(a) and 403(b) retirement plans, will allow plan sponsors to document their plans’ compliance with tax code requirements in response to the curtailment of the IRS’ determination letter program.

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In October 2016, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) sued the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking an injunction against the latest iteration of wellness program regulations. The final EEOC regulations issued last year offer employers a roadmap for offering employee wellness programs that pass muster as “voluntary” examinations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). In response, AARP argued that the EEOC failed to adequately justify the new rules and abused its regulatory power by reversing course on its long-standing position against wellness programs.

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Offering employer stock in a 401(k) plan investment lineup can seem like a win-win situation. It can enable employees to become company owners—real, skin-in-the-game, participants in their employer’s economic future—through a simple deferral election. The U.S. Supreme Court has even recognized the value of employer stock funds, confirming that Congress sought to encourage their creation through provisions and standards contained in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).

However, in the wake of a series of high-profile employee lawsuits seeking recovery against Enron, Lehman Brothers, and other employers for losses from 401(k) investments in employer stock, such funds can—almost as easily—seem a recipe for disaster. This article examines the quandary that employer stock funds pose for plan sponsors, who must navigate ERISA’s careful balance of (1) ensuring fair and prompt enforcement of employee rights under employer-provided retirement plans while (2) encouraging employer creation of these plans.

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Originally published in Bloomberg Law, May 25, 2017