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Final Rule on Disability Claims under Welfare and Retirement Plans Effective April 1

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.




Considerations in Designing Severance Plans and Arrangements for Tax-Exempt Organizations

There are numerous reasons why organizations exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c) (3), as amended (the “Code” and, such organizations, “Tax-Exempt Entities”) may offer severance payments to employees who incur involuntary terminations of employment. For example, severance that is conditioned on the departing employee’s execution of a release of claims in favor of the Tax-Exempt Entity can reduce the likelihood of costly and burdensome litigation. Similarly, payment of severance may reduce the risk of negative publicity for the Tax-Exempt Entity by diminishing resentment felt by departing employees. Severance may also help retain existing employees by providing them with a measure of economic security that can dissuade them from seeking alternative employment, particularly if they suspect that the Tax-Exempt Entity has encountered budgetary shortfalls and may be implementing near-term workforce reductions. For these and other reasons, many Tax-Exempt Entities have either implemented or are considering implementing severance programs. Tax-Exempt Entities should be aware of unique opportunities and recent IRS regulations that impact the design of severance programs. This article discusses key decisions and planning opportunities for Tax-Exempt Entities to consider when designing and implementing severance plans and individual severance arrangements. Tax-Exempt Entities face a number of legal and regulatory challenges in establishing severance arrangements, particularly with respect to executive-level severance, as discussed in more detail in Part I. Part II discusses the legal parameters around using Code Section 403(b) retirement savings plans to offer severance to employees with lower levels of compensation.

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