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Maureen O'Brien advises clients on a broad range of employee benefits matters, including qualified plan design, welfare plan design, employee benefit plan compliance issues, fiduciary matters, multi-employer pension plan issues and nonqualified deferred compensation plans. Read Maureen O'Brien's full bio.

Several large employers are disputing how much money the New York Times owes a union multiemployer pension fund. Recently, six companies—including US Foods Inc. and United Natural Foods Inc.—filed an amicus brief supporting the New York Times in its case before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ruprecht Co., an Illinois meat processor, also filed its own brief in support of the New York Times.

Under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), when determining an employer’s withdrawal liability, the actuarial assumptions and methods must “offer the actuary’s best estimate of the anticipated experience under the plan.” The underlying issue in this case involves an actuarial method called the “Segal Blend,” which often is used to value unfunded vested benefits and calculate withdrawal liability (an exit fee) from a union multiemployer pension plan. Under the Segal Blend, the actuary blends the multiemployer plan’s assumed interest rate on investments with a lower interest rate used by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for terminating plans. Many multiemployer pension plans commonly use the Segal Blend to calculate an employer’s unfunded liability and payment upon exiting the multiemployer plan (known as “withdrawal liability”). These large employers claim that using the Segal Blend results in an artificially lower interest rate, which in turn results in larger employer withdrawal liability and larger amounts an employer must pay to exit the multiemployer pension plan.

Continue Reading Piling On: Corporations Support the New York Times in Multiemployer Pension Calculation Dispute

When California’s Dynamex decision rolled out the “ABC test”, it placed the burden on the employer to prove independent contractor (IC) status. In a presentation at the Employment and Employee Benefits Forum in California, McDermott’s lawyers discussed the implications of Dynamex, as it applies to various types of employers as well as those using staffing companies. Additionally, they cover Dynamex’s impact on worker classification and employee benefits plans, particularly under ERISA.

Lastly, they provide best practices that employers can do now to prevent litigation.

View the full presentation.

On August 21, 2018, the IRS issued guidance regarding recent statutory changes made to Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code. Overall, Notice 2018-68 strictly interprets the Section 162(m) grandfathering rule under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Public companies and other issuers subject to these deduction limitations will want to closely consider this guidance in connection with filing upcoming periodic reports with securities regulators. Further action to support existing tax positions or adjustments to deferred tax asset reporting in financial statements may be warranted in light of this guidance.

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Last month, Alexander Lee and Maureen O’Brien joined with Rob Wellner from Velocity Global to discuss the tax and employee benefits complications that arise in cross-border transactions. Key points discussed:

  • Complex tax structures must be considered and understood
  • Transfers of employment may be governed by different statutes in each affected jurisdiction
  • Purchasers may not be ready to provide employment, payroll and benefits on the closing date without significant pre-closing work

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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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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 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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The Department of Labor announced increased penalties for employee benefit plans under ERISA. The increases generally apply to penalties that involve employee benefit reporting and disclosure failings if the penalty is assessed after January 2, 2018, and if the violation occurred after November 2, 2015. We’ve compiled a resource outlining the ERISA penalty amounts assessed for violations on or before January 2, 2018, and those amounts assessed after January 2.

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The US Department of the Treasury recently issued guidance that retirement plan sponsors should consider as part of their obligation to take reasonable steps to locate missing participants. Specifically, the Treasury issued a memorandum which sets forth guidelines that prohibit auditors from challenging qualified plans as failing to satisfy the required minimum distribution standards under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 401(a)(9) if the plan has fulfilled all of the following with respect to participants that cannot be located:

  • Searched for alternative contact information in plan, plan sponsor and publicly available records for directories;
  • Used a commercial locator service, credit reporting agency or a proprietary internet search tool for locating individuals; and
  • Sent mail via United States Postal Service (USPS) certified mail to the last known mailing address and attempted contact “through appropriate means for any address or contact information,” which includes email addresses and telephone number.

The Treasury guidance is similar to, but also expands upon, prior guidance provided by the US Department of Labor, which addresses locating missing participants for terminated retirement plans.

Locating missing participants and beneficiaries can be challenging for plan sponsors. Many plan sponsors find that they are unable to locate participants who left employment many years prior and, as a result, are unable to make required minimum distributions. Both the IRS and Department of Labor have stepped up their enforcement of these requirements in recent years. In particular, the Department of Labor has made locating missing participants an enforcement priority for plan audits.

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On Tuesday night, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) released a new modified mark of the Senate version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that modifies provisions related to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Sections 409A and 162(m).

The Chairman’s modification adds a transition rule for the elimination of employer deductions for payments over $1 million to certain executives under Code Section 162(m). The transition rule provides that elimination of the employer deduction does not apply to payments under a written and binding contract in effect on November 2, 2017, provided that the contract was not materially modified after that date.

In addition, the Chairman’s modification eliminates the provision that would have replaced Code Section 409A with a new Section 409B, which would have required payments under non-qualified deferred compensation plans to be taxed when they vested. Currently, Section 409A allows employees to defer taxation on such fully-vested payments, provided they meet other requirements under Section 409A. The proposed replacement of 409A with 409B would have had significant tax implications for those employees with non-qualified deferred compensation plans.

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