The US Department of Labor published a final rule that makes it easier for a group or association of employers to act as a single “employer” sponsor of an Association Health Plan under ERISA. By creating an opportunity for small employers and self-employed individuals to take advantage of the economies of scale that are usually enjoyed by large employers, the final rule is intended to expand access to affordable health care.
Rick Stepanovic focuses his practice on employee benefits and executive compensation matters. He has experience working on matters related to tax-qualified pension plans, health and welfare plans, and deferred compensation arrangements. He also has experience handling correction and administrative matters before the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor. Read Rick Stepanovic's full bio.
The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on March 7, 2018, that workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The language of Title VII does not expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. However, the US EEOC has taken a broad approach to enforcing Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination, arguing that it includes both gender identity and sexual orientation.
On April 26, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) increased the 2018 maximum deductible Health Savings Account (HSA) contribution for taxpayers with family coverage under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) to $6,900.
The $6,900 contribution limit for 2018 was originally published in Revenue Procedure 2017-37, but was reduced earlier this year by $50 to $6,850 in Revenue Procedure 2018-18 due to changes in the inflation indexing measure under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The IRS later increased the limit back to the originally announced amount of $6,900. This relief is published in Revenue Procedure 2018-27 and appears to be the result of pushback from employers, many of whom would face significant administrative costs due to implementing the mid-year change, and governing law requiring the annual HSA limits to be published by no later than June 1 of the preceding calendar year.
Under the guidance, an individual who received a distribution from an HSA in 2018 of an excess contribution based on the previous $50 reduction may repay the distribution to the HSA by April 15, 2019. The repaid amount would not be included in the individual’s gross income or subject to additional taxation. Alternatively, such individual may take no action and treat the $50 HSA distribution as an excess contribution that was timely returned and thus not subject to income inclusion or additional taxation.
Employers who previously lowered their plan’s contribution limit for HSAs to $6,850 should consider how to address the increased limit and whether any changes or employee communications are necessary.
The US Department of Labor has taken the position that certain indemnification clauses are void against public policy under Section 410 of ERISA. This policy has been adopted by private plaintiff classes; as evident from a recent settlement, a policy that voids indemnity provisions can limit defense budgets, make settlements more likely and potentially create dangerous precedent for ESOPs.
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 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.
The new tax reform legislation includes important changes to the tax treatment of employer-sponsored benefit programs, including transportation benefit programs and moving expense reimbursements. The law also creates a new tax credit for employers who provide paid family and medical leave to their employees.
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.
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.
Both the House and Senate versions of tax reform propose significant changes that may reduce or eliminate the tax benefits of many popular employer-provided fringe benefits, such as dependent care assistance programs, on-premises gyms and bicycle commuting expense reimbursements. In addition, many common deductions for work-related activities—including certain meal and entertainment expenses—may see sweeping changes.