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.

Continue reading.

In a recent webinar, Jake Mattinson and Sarah Raaii discussed the practices that benefits professionals can adopt to add value to their organizations and avoid common mistakes.  Jake and Sarah discussed recommended practices for ERISA benefit claims and inquiries, how to review plan compensation definitions and payroll codes, best practices for corrections using the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), and the importance of document retention. The webinar is part of the larger Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group, a group that meets to discuss key benefit issues and trends and provides networking opportunities aimed at connecting tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

View the full presentation.

There are many different types of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions, making it very important to understand the overall deal structure and process. Andrew C. Liazos presented “Mergers and Acquisitions Webinar Series Part 2: The Due Diligence Process” for the CLE Program as part of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits and the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel. He discussed the overall architecture of a deal, including the parties involved, what drives the deal structure, where to get data, price negotiations and more. The presentation focused on specific M&A areas including pension, other retirement and executive benefits.

View the full presentation.

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.

Read the full article.

In a recent presentation, McDermott attorneys discussed how to prepare responses for a Department of Labor (DOL) investigative audit of a company’s health and welfare plan, including required documentation and procedures, DOL audit triggers, and key legal provisions that employers and employee benefits advisers should monitor regularly and review prior to responding to a DOL audit notification. One DOL survey found that nearly one-third of all health and welfare plan audits resulted in penalties in excess of $10,000 per examination. Employers and employee benefits advisers should evaluate and anticipate DOL audit risks and preemptively remedy potential defects to avoid painful and expensive assessments.

View the presentation slides here.

Recent reports show that the number of retirement plan audits by government agencies is increasing. A survey released by Willis Towers Watson indicates that one in every three plan sponsors has experienced a retirement plan audit by a government agency in the past two years. Unofficial reports also indicate that the US Department of Labor (DOL) has added staff to conduct more retirement plan audits.

The increase in audit activity is not surprising after the DOL released its report last year on the quality of audit work performed by independent qualified public accountants. That report—“Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits”—found that nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) employee benefit plan audits completed by independent qualified public accountants for the 2011 filing year contained “major deficiencies with respect to one or more relevant GAAS requirements” which “would lead to rejection of a Form 5500 filing.” Common audit deficiencies cited in the DOL report include insufficient review of plan documents and administration, failure to obtain evidence of required communications to participants, inadequate review of employee eligibility, participant accruals and non-discrimination testing, and failure to obtain evidence of adequate internal controls.

The reports of increased audit activity and the DOL findings on the quality of plan audits illustrate the importance for plan sponsors to continually monitor their employee benefit plans for compliance with the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. Plan sponsors and fiduciaries may erroneously assume that once the independent audit is complete they can rest assured that the plan complies with legal requirements. However, an independent audit is not enough—plan sponsors have a fiduciary obligation to ensure their plans are properly maintained and administered beyond what is required to complete the annual audit.

For a summary of the most common issues under audit examination, please see our article on the “Top IRS and DOL Audit Issues for Retirement Plans.” The article describes numerous steps plan sponsors should take to review their plans to identify problems that come up on Internal Revenue Service and DOL audits, and to make sure they have proper internal controls to avoid those problems in the future. Regular review of these issues and proper focus on internal controls can help prevent costly fines and fees when a government agency audits a plan.

On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a proposal to implement significant changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would considerably increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all health and welfare plans. The changes would also have a considerable impact on annual retirement plan reporting obligations.  For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on retirement plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Reporting Requirements May Have Significant Impact on Retirement Plan Sponsors.

The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019.

Read the full article here.

On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced a proposal to implement sweeping changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would significantly increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all retirement plans. The changes also would have a considerable impact on employer-sponsored group health plans.  For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on health and welfare plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Would Significantly Increase Reporting Obligations for Health and Welfare Plan Sponsors.

The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019. Certain compliance questions will, however, be effective for Form 5500 series returns filed for the 2016 plan year.

Read the full article here.

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). In addition to authorizing $305 billion in funding for federal highway projects, the FAST Act also repeals the recently enacted extension to the Form 5500 filing deadline included in the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act (Surface Transportation Act).

Read the full article.