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.
At the 36th Annual ISCEBS Symposium, Todd Solomon presented best practices for plan fiduciaries to avoid 401(k) plan and 403(b) plan class action lawsuits. Todd discussed fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA as well as potential consequences of breaching fiduciary responsibilities. He highlighted notable cases brought against plan fiduciaries, including those that allege excess plan fees. Todd discussed the need for rigorous monitoring and documentation of the review process.
Mary Samsa and Allison Wilkerson discussed that the majority of ERISA disclosures are in fact employee communications – many of which are viewed as “routine” by employers. As such, plan sponsors are continually balancing the best way in which to relay complex benefit plan information in a manner to best be understood by employees but equally satisfy the applicable regimented disclosure requirements. Some key takeaways from their presentation included not only the compliance and content requirements, but methods for delivering communications to employees, traps for the unwary (i.e., inconsistent information communicated, the advantage of having these communications reviewed by legal counsel, and oversight of third parties who assist in preparing communications) and some common sense approaches for routine reviews of communications and continuing education to participants so that periodic communications are not always monumental tasks.
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.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor relaxed some deadlines for eligible employee benefit plans and expanded the availability of withdrawals and loans for eligible defined contribution plan participants in the disaster area. However, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation announced that some of its required filings will not be extended automatically.
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
Multiple large, class action lawsuits have been filed against prominent higher education institutions claiming fiduciary breaches under their Code Section 403(b) plans as a result of insufficient oversight of plan investments, which allegedly caused excessive fees to be paid by participants. Last week, district courts in Georgia and North Carolina, respectively, ruled on defendants’ motions under Henderson v. Emory University and Clark v. Duke University. Although the defendants in these cases has some success in eliminating certain causes of action, other causes of actions involving the payment of excessive fees and use of multiple record-keepers will continue through litigation.
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 February 28, Todd Solomon and Maureen O’Brien presented a Strafford live webinar, “Private Equity Compliance With ERISA: Navigating Manager Fiduciary Duties for Funds Holding ERISA Plan Assets”. ERISA imposes fiduciary obligations on funds that hold employee benefit plan assets, including private equity managers responsible for investing fund assets. Managing those fiduciary obligations requires knowledge of the ERISA plan asset requirements. In addition, last year’s Sun Capital decision has broad implications for private equity funds and their investors. The ruling subjects funds to joint and several liabilities for the ERISA pension obligations of their portfolio companies. These slides discuss the ERISA fiduciary issues relevant to private equity funds and the implications of the most recent Sun Capital case.
The future of the fiduciary rule—originally set to be implemented this upcoming April—remains uncertain after the White House directed the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to reevaluate, defer implementation and consider rescinding the controversial new fiduciary rule on February 3, 2017. In response to the White House, the acting US Secretary of Labor announced that the DOL will now consider its legal options to delay the applicability date to comply with the President’s directive. McDermott’s ERISA practice will closely monitor these developments and provide additional guidance as it becomes available.