Employee Benefits Law Report

Tag Archives: ERISA

DOL proposes new ERISA fiduciary ESG and proxy voting rules

In what some commentators are describing as the latest volley in a game of regulatory ping-pong, the Department of Labor (DOL) published proposed regulations that would change the way an ERISA fiduciary should consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and related proxy voting decisions with respect to plan investments (the proposed regulations). The proposed … Continue Reading

Plan sponsors now have a deadline for providing lifetime income illustrations

Employers who sponsor 401(k) plans and other defined contribution plans in which participants may direct the investments of their accounts now have a deadline to provide lifetime income illustrations in those plans’ benefit statements. The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published guidance addressing these requirements. While helpful, the guidance is still subject to change in … Continue Reading

DOL proposes a more practical rule for electronic ERISA disclosures

On Oct. 23, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed rule for electronic delivery of ERISA disclosures. Although the DOL already allows for electronic delivery under the 2002 Electronic Safe Harbor, its availability is limited and technology quickly outpaced its usefulness. The proposed rule creates a new, additional safe harbor the DOL calls … Continue Reading

Sellers beware: Recent court case shows sellers – as well as ESOP fiduciaries – should be engaged in ESOP due diligence and valuation process

As we have explained in prior ESOP blogs, the Department of Labor (DOL) remains acutely concerned with private company employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) valuations in the formation of ESOPs. In particular, trustees who approve an ESOP trust’s purchase of shares from a seller must demonstrate that they have satisfied ERISA’s fiduciary duties with respect … Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit nonqualified deferred compensation plan decision highlights importance of Code Section 409A compliance and ERISA claims procedures

We often receive questions about whether different types of bonus plans and nonqualified deferred compensation plans (NQDC plans) are subject to ERISA. We explain that being subject to ERISA may be a good thing for an NQDC plan, particularly with respect to resolving disputes and claims for benefits. Even if it is questionable whether an … Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit issues mandate that vacates the ERISA fiduciary rule: What plan sponsors should do next

After years of revising regulations and even more years of legal battles, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2016 ERISA fiduciary regulations (the regulations) essentially end up right where they started. That is because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued its mandate officially vacating in toto the regulations, including the Best Interest … Continue Reading

Association health plans: Proposed DOL rules create potential opportunity for associations and small employers

On Jan. 5, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposed rule that would make it easier for small businesses to join together to purchase health insurance. This is not a completely new concept. Unrelated small employers can join together to purchase health insurance today. Under current guidance, however, these types of plans are … Continue Reading

Are the ERISA disability claims procedure regulations going to be delayed? How qualified and nonqualified plan sponsors should respond to the latest guidance

While the fiduciary rule has received most of the attention in the world of ERISA as of late, a lesser known regulation that was finalized late last year also may require action by plan sponsors. This regulation , issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) in December 2016, requires applicable plans to satisfy additional procedural … Continue Reading

Will the DOL continue to make ESOPs a compliance priority?

One question that has been on the minds of plan sponsors is how aggressive the Department of Labor (DOL) under President Trump will be compared to that of President Obama. In recent years, the DOL made a priority of investigating ERISA fiduciary issues, with a particular focus on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). After the … Continue Reading

Final fiduciary rule creates implications for plan sponsors and financial advisers

After a drawn out and controversial regulatory review process, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) on April 6, 2016, issued final guidance that expands the definition of a “fiduciary” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code regarding persons or entities that render investment advice for compensation, received directly … Continue Reading

Protection of ERISA’s statute of limitations is narrowed by the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court yesterday issued a unanimous opinion in Tibble et al. v. Edison International et al. vacating a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that claims by employees of Edison International against the company over allegedly imprudent 401(k) plan investments were time-barred under applicable ERISA statute of limitation rules. The issue before the … Continue Reading

The first progeny of the Hobby Lobby decision

As we noted in a previous blog entry, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled in two companion cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius (referred to hereafter as Hobby Lobby) , that regulations issued under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) that compel closely held corporations to provide contraception … Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit finds all anti-retaliation provisions are not created equal, but they are legal landmines. Watch your step

Sexton v. Panel Processing, Inc. is a recent Sixth Circuit case that highlights that all anti-retaliation provisions are not created equal. And while not equal, there certainly are a lot of them. In fact, there are at least 40 federal anti-retaliation laws, and this does not even include all the various state statutory and common … Continue Reading

ERISA preemption is complicated – except when it isn’t

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. Donegal, 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. … Continue Reading

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

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 holding company. As part of the transaction, Multiband entered into indemnification agreements that contained essentially the same provisions as the prior agreements.… Continue Reading

Frommert v. Conkright “Actuarial Heresy” is Back Again

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).” … Continue Reading

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

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 Comany, 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 loss due date).… 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

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 past boundaries and throws that delicate balance into a tailspin. The Sixth Circuit has, in the words of dissenting Judge McKeague, “taken an unprecedented and extraordinary step to expand the scope of ERISA coverage.”… Continue Reading

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

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 Court ruled that CIGNA, while acting as plan fiduciary, did not have authority to change the terms of the plan as written by CIGNA, acting as plan sponsor.… Continue Reading
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