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.

Patrick McCurry and Todd Solomon wrote this bylined article on how family offices are using sophisticated techniques to compensate their employees in a tax-efficient manner. “We expect to see the continued use of equity to deliver tax-efficient compensation to family office employees while aligning the economic interests and incentives of the family and the family office’s key employees,” the authors wrote.

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Originally published in Tax Executive, February 1, 2018.

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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Beginning April 1, 2018, new disability claim regulations may apply to some executive compensation arrangements. Given this pending regulatory deadline, employers need to analyze which of their executive compensation arrangements may be subject to the enhanced requirements for disability claims review.

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After some speculation about a delay in implementation of the final rules on claims adjudication of disability claims under welfare and retirement plans (the Final Rule), the US Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed that the Final Rule will be applicable beginning April 1, 2018. McDermott’s article detailing the new requirements in the Final Rule can be found here. A disability welfare or retirement benefit claim, as well as claims under certain executive compensation arrangements, severance plans and other payment plans subject to ERISA’s claims procedures, will be subject to the Final Rule if the benefit is conditioned upon a claimant’s disability, and the claims adjudicator must make a determination of disability in order to decide the claim. However, if a plan links the finding of disability to a determination made by a party other than the plan (e.g., a finding made under the employer’s long-term disability plan or a determination of disability made by the Social Security Administration), then the special rules for disability claims are not applicable to a claim for benefits under such plan.

Plan sponsors and administrators should review retirement, welfare, executive compensation and severance plans to determine whether such benefits are subject to the Final Rule’s additional requirements. Any language detailing claim procedures in plan documents and summary plan descriptions should be updated, and disability claim and appeal administrative practices and procedures, as well as disability claim and appeal notices should be revised to comply with the Final Rule.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law last year. From biking benefits to leave tax credits, we’ll discuss the employee benefit provisions and strategies for compliance, as well as opportunities your company won’t want to miss! Join the McDermott team on Friday, February 2 for a discussion of how the new law impacts fringe benefit plans, executive compensation and retirement plans.

Friday, February 2, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PST
11:00 – 11:45 am MST
12:00 – 12:45 pm CST
1:00 – 1:45 pm EST

Register Here.

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.

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) conduct different types of benefit plan audits, such as retirement plans and health and welfare plans, and for various reasons. In a presentation, Jeffrey Holdvogt and Maggie McTigue discuss IRS and DOL audit triggers, the process for each and what to do if your plan is audited. They also discuss the top audit issues and actionable steps companies can take to avoid audits and compliance issues.

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In a recent webinar, Jake Mattinson and Sarah Raaii discussed the basics of health savings accounts (HSAs) and health flexible spending accounts. They provided an overview of the various regulations surrounding HSA, such as eligibility requirements, high deductible health plans, and contributions and distributions, and cafeteria plans. Additionally, they analyzed the differences between HSAs and Health FSAs and HRAs.

View the full presentation.