The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) has long been a source of complex and often-expensive litigation for employers. However, as the number of actions brought by employees under ERISA have surged, employer-defendants have often relied on the so-called top-hat exemption to dismiss certain claims involving executives. Now, several federal courts of appeals have addressed the disputed contention that the presence of employee bargaining power is required for a plan to fall under the top-hat exemption. In this article, Elizabeth Rowe, J. Christian Nemeth and Joseph Urwitz look at recent appeals court decisions and their effects on this exemption.

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Originally published in Benefits Law Journal, Autumn 2018

The IRS recently issued proposed amendments to regulations concerning 401(k) plan hardship distributions. The proposed regulations address changes to hardship distribution rules from the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and other legislation.

Though the regulations are only proposed, 401(k) plan sponsors should promptly consider these changes because decisions should be made on applying certain optional changes, which generally can be effective for plan years beginning after December 31, 2018.

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Todd Solomon and Brian Tiemann presented on alternative investments for pension plans during the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) Conference in Chicago. They discussed various rules benefit plan investors should consider, including the “look-through” rule and the “significant” investment rule. They also addressed common hedge fund structural and operational issues, and problems if a fund holds ERISA plan assets.

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The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has solidified a circuit split on who has burden of proving loss causation in ERISA breach of fiduciary duty cases. The First Circuit joined the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Circuits holding that once a plaintiff demonstrates a fiduciary breach, the defendant has the burden to negate loss causation. Other circuits, including the Sixth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, have held that a plaintiff bears to burden to establish loss causation. This issue is ripe for Supreme Court review.

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Join us Friday, November 2 for our monthly Fridays with Benefits webinar. With 2019 right around the corner, now is the time to dust off your year-end checklist and take stock of changes we have seen in 2018, and how they project to impact planning for the new year. Join us for an interactive discussion designed to draw attention to the key employee benefits issues you should tackle before New Year’s Eve. Our lively 45-minute discussion will include a tax reform update, an overview of retirement plan disaster relief, responding to new disability regulations from the DOL, and how to implement final regulations on QNECs and QMACs.

Friday, November 2, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PDT
11:00 – 11:45 am MDT
12:00 – 12:45 pm CDT
1:00 – 1:45 pm EDT

Register now.

During the Tax in the City event held in Dallas, Erin Turley and Allison Wilkerson gave an overview of benefit plan audits and the IRS examination process. They discussed various areas of focus, including, required minimum distributions, investment issues, benefit calculations and appropriate tax reporting. They provided attendees with best practices before an audit, as well as helpful resources from the IRS and DOL.

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Late last month, the IRS released the latest version of its Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System, the IRS’s program for correcting retirement plan errors. The newest version of the correction program—effective beginning in 2019—includes mostly minor changes and clarifications. Most importantly, however, it requires electronic filing of Voluntary Correction Program submissions beginning April 1, 2019.

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The Internal Revenue Service and the Security Summit partners recently issued a news release outlining the “Security Six,” a list of essential steps to protect stored employee information on networks and computers. Employee benefits professionals, including those who administer welfare and retirement plans for employees and beneficiaries, should review and implement the “Security Six” in order to protect sensitive data from cyberattacks.

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We would also like to thank law clerk Charnae Supplee for contributing to this article.

During our Tax in the City roundtable event in Dallas, Erin Turley and Judith Wethall presented on the hidden costs in benefit contracts. They provided attendees with a checklist of what to look out for in contracts, including services, protection and pricing terms. When negotiating contracts, Erin and Judith recommended establishing a list of needs and objectives, as well as seeking referrals from other similarly situated employers.

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