To recruit and retain top talent, employers often offer benefits more generous than required under the law. Such benefits include unlimited vacation, paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave. However, a recent US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit filed against Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. (Estee Lauder) reveals how even the most well-intentioned of programs can result in a discrimination lawsuit.
On October 12, 2017, McDermott Will & Emery filed a lawsuit on behalf of The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) challenging new reporting requirements under Oregon law as applicable to retirement plans subject to ERISA. Below is a press release from ERIC and Q&As regarding this litigation.
OregonSaves is the state of Oregon’s state-run retirement program that automatically enrolls employees of employers into individual retirement arrangements (IRAs). Unless an employee opts out of OregonSaves, a portion of each paycheck is added to an IRA account in the employee’s name. Oregon is the first state to establish an auto-enrollment IRA program.
An employer that offers a qualified plan is not required to participate in OregonSaves, but only if it has a valid and current certificate of exemption. Obtaining this exemption depends upon reporting to the state of Oregon regarding an employer’s qualified plan. For employers with 100 or more employees in Oregon, this filing is due by November 15, 2017. The ERIC lawsuit alleges that ERISA’s express preemption provision preempts this reporting requirement.
This is the latest action by a state to impose reporting requirements on ERISA covered plans. Previously the state of Vermont (and other states) sought to require ERISA medical benefit plans to report their claims experience for purposes of compiling a so-called All Payor Claims Database (APCD). In the 2016 case of Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, the US Supreme Court held that ERISA preempted Vermont’s APCD reporting requirement.
ERIC supports state auto-enrollment programs intended to increase access to retirement savings plans if such programs do not infringe on employers that already provide ERISA-governed retirement plans. Tracking and complying with additional reporting burdens imposed by state-run retirement plans on a state by state basis would be unduly burdensome for employers.
There has been some prominent coverage on this case, including Industry group sues over Oregon retirement plan, Employers sue to block OregonSaves requirements, ERIC files lawsuit against Oregon Retirement Savings Board, ERISA Industry Committee sues to stop OregonSaves reporting demands and Oregon’s retirement-savings plan faces legal challenge. The team will continue to monitor and provide regular updates.
Two pending federal cases could reveal situations in which employers with a significant multi-lingual workforce should provide translated versions of their COBRA election materials.
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.
Originally published in Bloomberg Law, May 25, 2017
A US District Court recently dismissed a claim that an insider’s election to satisfy an income tax obligation by having shares withheld from the delivery of an award constituted a non-exempt sale of shares back to the issuer for purposes of Section 16(b) of the Exchange Act, unless the share withholding was required, rather than merely permitted.
While an encouraging development, this decision is now on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and there are similar unresolved complaints in other jurisdictions. Until this matter is resolved, public companies should continue to consider what steps are appropriate to avoid Section 16 exposure and to review this situation with their executive officers.
On Thursday, May 4, 2017, the US House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act by the slimmest of margins with no Democrats voting in favor of the bill. Amendments to the original bill attracted more support from both moderate and conservative Republicans by the introduction of two amendments: one that gives more leeway to the states to request waivers from the more onerous provisions of the ACA that cannot be changed through the budget reconciliation process, and a second one that adds $8 billion of funding to the bill to help improve the “high-risk pools” that could be set up by states to provide coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions who cannot find affordable insurance in the open market.
McDermott will be holding its annual Employee Benefits Innovators Roundtable Series this month. The roundtables offer experienced benefits professionals an opportunity to discuss cutting-edge, topical employer-driven benefit programs with their peers and members of McDermott’s employee benefits team. We are meeting in four locations this year. Join us in one of the following cities:
May 9 | Silicon Valley, California
May 11 | Los Angeles, California
May 22 | Chicago, Illinois
May 24 | New York, New York
The topics for our roundtable series sessions will include:
- The Future of Employee Benefits Under the Trump Administration
- Should Your Plan Cover All Drugs? (FDA-Approved/Unapproved, Off-Label, Marijuana, etc.)
- ERISA Retirement Plan Fee Litigation – Learning From Recent Class Actions
- Paying Off Student Loans as an Employee Benefit
- Equal Privacy and Cybersecurity – Now Part of Your Plan’s Independent Audit
- Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Equality Index – Opposite-Sex Domestic Partner Benefit
For more information about how to register for one of our roundtables, please contact Erin Nelson.
On March 20, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Revenue Procedure 2017-28, which provides guidance to employers on obtaining employee consents used to support a claim for credit or refund of overpaid taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA). This OTS describes the new procedures and provides valuable information regarding the rules for amending past employment tax returns due to the over- or under-payment of Social Security, Medicare and Federal income tax on employee wages.
The federal government’s focus on pay equity and pay data, and the passage of groundbreaking equal pay laws in a number of states, has been one of the biggest employment law developments of 2016. Litigation involving pay equity claims has also risen in the past year. Given the increased focus on pay equity from these multiple sources, employers are well-advised to examine their compensation policies and practices. Understanding and applying the varying tests for pay equity under federal and state statutes can pose a challenge, however.
On January 24, McDermott hosted an in-depth webinar to discuss the federal Equal Pay Act; state equal pay laws; the EEOC’s pay data rule; how to conduct a pay equity study; and employer defenses to pay equity claims.
Health system employers should make sure they are familiar with three key employee benefit issues: (1) the new Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule that currently becomes effective April 10, 2017 (but may be delayed in the near future under the new administration); (2) recent excessive fee litigation filed against universities (and now health care systems such as Essentia Health) maintaining Code Section 403(b) fee plans; and (3) new Code Section 457(f) regulations. Each of these issues present risks and opportunities for health systems in 2017.