Header graphic for print
Employee Benefits Law Report Reporting on recent trends and developments affecting employee benefits

Author Archives: Ann Caresani

Posts by Ann Caresani

ESOP boundaries: plan design versus fiduciary function

Posted in ESOPs

Greeting from Northeast Ohio. We have LeBron James coming home, the Republican National Convention, and something almost as exciting: thoughts about ESOPs!

As I mentioned in a prior blog, in Coulter v. Morgan Stanley & Co. the Second Circuit held that the decision to contribute employer stock rather than cash to a benefit plan was a settlor function, not a fiduciary function. This settlor/fiduciary distinction is critical to the foundation of ERISA and the future of employer-sponsored plans.

The United States Supreme Court’s Dudenhoeffer decision shortly after that surprised me because the Supreme Court has repeatedly made this …


Continue Reading →

The health care reform shared responsibility excise tax missing link: employer rights

Posted in Health Care Reform, Tax Issues

Back in 2011, I mentioned a missing link in the health care reform Section 4980H shared responsibility employer excise tax scheme. 42 U.S.C. Section 18081 requires the establishment of an appeals and redeterminations process for penalty assessments, and acknowledges a problem with the provision itself. It requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to consult with the Secretary of Treasury, study administration of employer responsibility, and provide a report to certain Congressional committees by January 1, 2013. This report was to address the procedures and/or legislative changes necessary to ensure the following rights are protected:

(A) The rights of …


Continue Reading →

ERISA preemption of state law regarding multiemployer health, welfare and retirement benefits

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ERISA Litigation

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has given us another opportunity to expand our employee benefit plan boundaries discussion. This time, the discussion applies to multiemployer plans in the construction industry. It has been reported that Rep. William Keller, D-Philadelphia, introduced a bill in the General Assembly to amend the state’s Mechanics’ Lien Law to classify union benefit fund trustees as subcontractors allowed to pursue claims for nonpayment against employers and property owners. This action followed a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that unions and benefit fund trustees do not qualify as subcontractors as a result of collective bargaining agreements with employers.

There …


Continue Reading →

The ESOP sponsor / fiduciary boundary dispute, employer contribution edition

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ESOPs

As a follow up to our blog on the ERISA sponsor / fiduciary boundary dispute, here is another case, Coulter v. Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc., from the Second Circuit. The employer decided to make contributions in the form of company stock, rather than cash. Then the employer’s stock price plunged in conjunction with the economic downturn. Plaintiffs alleged the employer breached its fiduciary duty by making the investment in stock. The district court dismissed the claims on the basis of the Moench presumption of prudence.

The Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of the claims, but on a …


Continue Reading →

The $36,500 per employee, per year, per mistake PPACA penalty

Posted in Health Care Reform

And the gloves are off! The IRS has threatened employers with PPACA penalties of $36,500 per employee, per year, nondeductible. Makes those $2,000 and $3,000 penalties look like small potatoes, right?

The targets of this particular Q&A are employers who maintain “non-integrated” “employer payment plans.” These are new terms, which include reimbursement plans such as health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs, excluding retiree-only and excepted benefits HRAs). Those should generally have been eliminated by January 1, 2014, or amended to be integrated with group health coverage. The federal agencies dropped this bomb on employers on the cusp of open enrollment season last …


Continue Reading →

ERISA Section 510: wanting to be a participant, versus being a participant

Posted in ERISA Litigation, Retirement Plans

My assistant informed me that my patience is shot and I need to do something about that, so I am channeling my energy into one issue. Since health care reform was enacted, I have been hearing about how we should anticipate a flood of ERISA Section 510 (29 U.S.C. Section 1140) discrimination cases from people who are not participants under the plan terms, but want to be participants. I don’t get it.

ERISA Section 510 provides, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to…discriminate against a participant or beneficiary…for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to …


Continue Reading →

Sixth Circuit retiree health care case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted in Health Care Reform, Retirement Plans

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Sixth Circuit retiree health care case, M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett. The issue is:

Whether, when construing collective bargaining agreements in Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) cases, courts should presume that silence concerning the duration of retiree health-care benefits means the parties intended those benefits to vest (and therefore continue indefinitely), as the Sixth Circuit holds; or should require a clear statement that health-care benefits are intended to survive the termination of the collective bargaining agreement, as the Third Circuit holds; or should require at least some language in the …


Continue Reading →

Health reimbursement accounts failed to satisfy collective bargaining agreement provisions: is the Sixth Circuit handcuffing employers?

Posted in Employment Issues, Health Care Reform

We have a new Sixth Circuit decision regarding “vested” retiree health care benefits that is likely to be of concern to many employers, United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing Energy, Allied Industrial And Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC v. Kelsey-Hayes Company. You may recall that in the last significant Sixth Circuit decision on this topic, Reese v. CNH America LLC, the Court recognized that health care had changed over the years, and concluded that the employer could unilaterally modify a retiree health plan, provided that the modifications were reasonable.  That decision seemed to put the Sixth Circuit …


Continue Reading →

IRS Safe Harbor for accepting rollover contributions – Revenue Ruling 2014-9 and Form 5310

Posted in Tax Issues

The Form 5310 Application for Determination for Terminating Plan instructions, updated in December 2013, added an odd and time-consuming new requirement, “Submit proof that any rollovers or asset transfers received [during the year of plan termination and five prior plan years] were from a qualified plan or IRA (for example, DL [determination letter] and timely interim amendments).”

The reason we find this instruction odd is that we are not aware of any requirement for a plan administrator to obtain and retain this proof. Treasury Regulation Section 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q&A-14 provides a safe harbor for the reasonable acceptance of a rollover that …


Continue Reading →

NLRB classification of athletes as employees highlights a health care reform land mine

Posted in Employment Issues, Health Care Reform

Employers have always been concerned about the potential for worker reclassification, but health care reform and a recent NLRB decision take this issue to an entirely new level.  “Large” employers who offer coverage will be required to offer coverage to “all” of their “full-time workers,” defined as at least 95% of employees working 30 hours per week. An employer that offers coverage to only 94% of its full-time employees, and has one employee who enrolled on an exchange with a premium credit, will be subject to annualized penalties of $2,000 per full-time employee, less the first 30 employees. This draconian …


Continue Reading →

Protected health information and health care plan design

Posted in Employment Issues, Health and Welfare Plans

On our sister blog — Employer Law Report – our partner Brian Hall wrote about the likely availability of an Alzheimer’s blood test, and the impact of new genetic testing in the context of employer sponsored group health care plans and wellness programs. Brian spoke of the “imaginary line” that separates protected health information from human resources decision-makers, supervisors and managers, and mentioned a plethora of employee protections, including HIPAA, GINA, ADA, and ERISA Section 510. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also added another set of employee protections. Each of these laws sets forth different standards for burden …


Continue Reading →

Facebook brag underscores the enforceability of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ERISA Litigation

Settlement agreements are fairly common in the ERISA / employee benefits area. We typically do not need “unique” provisions for these agreements, beyond making sure all the proper parties are named and that ERISA is referenced. But two issues typically require extra attention: confidentiality provisions, and payment method (including tax withholding and reporting). As discussed in our sister blog, a party might quietly violate a confidentiality provision, and get away with it without causing any real harm. But when a party shares settlement information with a child who has both a Facebook page and poor judgment, the ramifications can …


Continue Reading →

Audits of Benefit Plan Financials – What They Are and Are Not

Posted in Health and Welfare Plans, Other Articles

Department of Labor investigations of employee benefit plans can be challenging experiences for employers. The time demand can be a significant drain on the business, and the employer needs to be concerned about potential issues the investigator may raise. We believe the best defense is a good offense: we like our clients to take their responsibilities seriously well before an investigation. But employers are sometimes surprised that an investigator asks questions that were not asked by the auditors who conducted independent financial statement audits over the years. As a JD/CPA (double geek) I can tell you this audit is only …


Continue Reading →

ERISA preemption is complicated – except when it isn’t

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ERISA Litigation, Other Articles

In light of health care reform, we anticipate ERISA preemption cases to start popping up more frequently. Two recent decisions demonstrate that ERISA preemption is complicated, except when it isn’t. In Liberty Mutual Ins. Co.v Donegan, Second Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs explains the complicated nature of ERISA preemption. This opinion may be helpful for anyone to develop a better understanding of the topic and its history. (Shameless plug alert: you also may want to see the preemption chapter that I edit in ERISA: A Comprehensive Guide.)

Then there is the decision that demonstrates when preemption isn’t complicated.  Seventh


Continue Reading →

What to Do About Employee Benefits When The Company is Headed Towards Insolvency

Posted in Executive Compensation, Fringe Benefits, Retirement Plans

If you are a board member or senior executive of a company that is rapidly failing, what do you about employee benefits? No one has ever liked my answer: freeze the benefits. This is counterintuitive advice for someone who is trying to keep the company afloat, and who would be personally affected by the loss of benefits. But let me explain why this is so important, using a complaint that was recently filed by the DOL, and the facts as they were alleged.

In January 2010, Home Valu ceased operations due to financial difficulties. Creditors then filed an involuntary petition …


Continue Reading →

Join Us for Our Upcoming Webinar: Are You Ready for the New OFCCP Regulations?

Posted in Employment Issues, Other Articles

If you are a federal contractor or subcontractor, you will want to be sure your team is ready to handle its expanded affirmative opportunity requirements. Consider participating in Porter Wright’s upcoming OFCCP regulation webinars, or passing this invitation along to the person responsible for compliance.

Are You Ready for the New OFCCP Regulations?
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
2:15 p.m. EST

The most sweeping changes in federal affirmative action regulations in many years take effect in March 2014. The new regulations expand the affirmative action requirements for covered veterans and disabled persons. For the first time, federal contractors and subcontractors will …


Continue Reading →

ESOP Trustee Indemnification Stymied by Arbitrator’s Legally Unsupportable Analysis – Schafer v. Multiband Corp.

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ESOPs, Retirement Plans

I am not a fan of binding arbitration in the context of ERISA plans, and a new Sixth Circuit decision, Schafer v. Multiband Corp., demonstrates why.

Two individuals (Schafer and Block) founded a company. As part of a series of corporate transactions, two employee stock ownership plans (“ESOPs”) were formed. Schafer and Block were appointed as trustees of the ESOPs, and entered into indemnification agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. While the DOL was investigating its suspicion that the ESOPs had purchased stock at inflated prices, and with knowledge of this, Multiband entered into a purchase agreement to buy the …


Continue Reading →

Frommert v. Conkright “Actuarial Heresy” is Back Again

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ERISA Litigation, Retirement Plans

Frommert v. Conkright, the Xerox “actuarial heresy” floor-offset plan case is back. This time, the Second Circuit has ruled that the new interpretation of the plan is unreasonable, and that ERISA’s “notice provisions” were violated.

Stating, “SPDs are central to ERISA,” the Court concluded that the SPD (summary plan description) did not satisfy 29 C.F.R. § 2520.102-3(l) because the SPD did not describe the offset provision in question in more detail. The Court held, “the Plan and its related SPDs violate ERISA’s notice provisions” and “Plaintiffs’ notice claims fall under Section 502(a)(3).” Frommert has been remanded to the district …


Continue Reading →

Supreme Court Takes on Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer ESOP Dispute

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs, Other Articles

As I mentioned in my Heimeshoff v. Hartford blog, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bancorp, now captioned Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer. The Court granted certiorari on the question as originally framed:

Whether the Sixth Circuit erred by holding that Respondents were not required to plausibly allege in their complaint that the fiduciaries of an employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) abused their discretion by remaining invested in employer stock, in order to overcome the presumption that their decision to invest in employer stock was reasonable, as required by [ERISA], …


Continue Reading →

Heimeshoff v. Hartford: Supreme Court Upholds ERISA Plan Document’s Three-Year Statute of Limitations for Benefit Claims

Posted in ERISA Litigation, Retirement Plans

I have been blogging about ERISA basic principles and respect for boundaries, and just got a little help from the U.S. Supreme Court. In Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Company, a unanimous decision, the Court upheld the three-year statute of limitations set forth in the terms of the ERISA benefit plan document. The Court held that while a cause of action does not commence until the plan issues a final denial in the claims appeal process, the plan and its participants can agree to commence the limitation period before that time (here, at the proof of …


Continue Reading →

Sixth Circuit 502(a)(3) Windfall in Rochow v. Life Insurance Company of North America — ERISA’s Delicate Balance Goes So Far Off Kilter That I Am Queasy

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ERISA Litigation

When you think about it, balance is really important. It is hard to imagine how we all stand steady on a planet that is rotating on its access and rotating around the sun. The last earthquake I experienced left me queasy afterward, and that is how I feel after reading a new decision. Curses (or thank you?) to Brian Hall, editor of our sister blog, employerlawreport.com, for forwarding.

Within days of writing the Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank blog about a threat to ERISA’s delicate balance and importance of boundaries, we have yet another Sixth Circuit decision that blazes …


Continue Reading →

Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank at the U.S. Supreme Court: DOL Brief and the ESOP Sponsor / Fiduciary Boundary Dispute

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs

The DOL has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) dispute that made me think about Boundaries, a book about the importance of establishing boundaries, and compelling respect for those boundaries. In designing ERISA, Congress forged a delicate balance between protecting benefit plans and encouraging employers to provide those benefit plans. The U.S. Supreme Court reminded us in CIGNA v. Amara that this delicate balance includes carefully distinguishing the roles of plan sponsors and fiduciaries, even when one entity (e.g., the employer) wears both hats. The …


Continue Reading →

Employee Benefit Plan Limits – Reference Chart for 2014 and Prior Cost-of-Living Adjustments

Posted in Retirement Plans

The Internal Revenue Code sets forth various dollar limitations on benefits, contributions, compensation under employee benefit plans. The IRS has announced limits for 2014 tax years. For your reference, the IRS Cost-of-Living Adjustments summarizes these dollar limitations, as modified by the IRS for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), for 2014 and prior years.…


Continue Reading →

October 1, 2013 Health Care Reform Exchange Notice Deadline for All Employers Subject to the FLSA

Posted in Health Care Reform

As a reminder, under health care reform, all employers to which the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) applies, not just “applicable large employers,” are required to distribute health care exchange notices to their employees by October 1, 2013.  Given that health care reform is chock full of big penalties, it puzzled me that I couldn’t find a penalty for failure to provide this notice. Last week, the DOL published Frequently Asked Questions that confirmed, “there is no fine or penalty under the law for failing to provide the notice.” Nonetheless, health care reform involves so many inter-related statutes, pages of …


Continue Reading →