During the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, some 401(k) plan sponsors may be considering a mid-year reduction or suspension of matching contributions or nonelective contributions to their 401(k) plans as a cost-saving measure. Generally, whether the matching or nonelective contributions may be reduced or suspended will depend on the specific terms of the plan. In addition, in the case of  a plan that is intended to be a safe harbor plan under sections 401(k) or 401(m) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as amended (the “Code”), the Code imposes particularly restrictive rules limiting mid-year changes. The following summarizes steps that a plan sponsor must take to reduce or suspend matching or nonelective contributions to its safe harbor plan during the plan year without jeopardizing the plan’s tax-qualified status.

Continue Reading Reducing or Suspending Matching or Nonelective Contributions Under a Safe Harbor Plan

The Department of Labor (together with the Treasury Department) has issued helpful deadline relief for participants and beneficiaries in health, disability, other welfare and pension plans, as well as for plan sponsors and administrators of such plans, during the COVID-19 National Emergency.  The guidance came just in time for plan administrators at risk of missing the deadline for distributing annual funding notices, which was April 29 this year.

Continue Reading DOL Issues COVID-Related Deadline Relief

In addition to addressing the benefit and compensation provisions of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) for their general employee population, most company boards of directors (or applicable board committees) are also grappling with the unique issues relating to compensation and benefits of their executive employees at an uncertain time when such employees are critical to the company’s ability to weather the storm. See our blog post on Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 blog (republished by the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance here) for a summary of some of the key executive compensation issues that boards and executives may want to consider during these trying times.

In the third and final of a series, our employment and benefits teams take an in depth look at the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act” or the “Act”) affecting employment, compensation, payroll taxes and paid leave. Read more on the Mayer Brown COVID-19 Blog.

In the second of a series, our benefits team takes an in depth look at the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) affecting retirement plans. Changes include new coronavirus-related distributions, modified plan loan rules, and a temporary waiver of required minimum distributions.  Read more on the Mayer Brown COVID-19 blog.

When an employee separates from employment with a severance payment, the employee will frequently agree to a broad release of claims against the employer. Special concerns arise when applying a general release to potential claims that arise under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Although participants cannot be forced to forfeit their vested pension benefits or the assets in their individual retirement plan accounts, there have been a spate of class action lawsuits in recent years alleging that retirement plan fiduciaries breached their duties under ERISA § 502(a)(2). When faced with a prior release agreement, ERISA plaintiffs often argue that participants cannot individually waive fiduciary breach claims because they are bringing them on behalf of the plan. The Seventh Circuit rejected that argument in Howell v. Motorola, Inc., 633 F.3d 552 (7th Cir. 2011), dismissing the plaintiff’s fiduciary breach claim in a stock drop action because he had knowingly and voluntarily executed a general release. Other courts, however, have held that individual releases do not bar ERISA fiduciary breach claims brought on behalf of the plan. See, e.g., In re Schering Plough Corp. ERISA Litig., 589 F.3d 585, 594 (3d Cir. 2009). While neither the D.C. Circuit nor the district court had to directly address this issue—the argument was not properly raised by the plaintiff—they both concluded in a victory for plan sponsors that the plaintiff’s prior release agreement barred her fiduciary duty claims under ERISA § 502(a)(2).

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Holds That a Participant Who Signed a Release Could Not Assert ERISA Fiduciary Breach Claims on Behalf of Her Retirement Plan

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the largest economic stimulus bill in US history: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). The CARES Act provides resources to support our health care system in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, cash and other forms of relief for individual citizen; loans and other assistance to small businesses; and assistance for certain hard-hit industries. Many of the changes affect or have implications for employee benefit programs and other aspects of employee compensation. In our blog entry from March 27, we provided a high level summary of the legislation as it affects executive compensation, retirement and health and welfare plans, and employment taxes. In the first of a series posted on Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 blog, we look at the provisions affecting health and welfare plans in more depth.

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act was enacted into law. The CARES Act is a $2 trillion stimulus package designed to help bolster the economy overall by providing aid to workers and businesses impacted by COVID-19 and to provide further support to the country’s health systems. Several provisions of the CARES Act impact compensation and benefits provided by employers to employees.  See our post on Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 blog for a high level summary of some of the key provisions of the CARES Act that may impact employers.

In Notice 2020-18 (PDF), the US Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced special Federal income tax return filing and payment relief in response to the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency.  The IRS has now published Frequently Asked Questions providing additional information on the relief, some of which is relevant to employer-sponsored retirement plans, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).  See our post on Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 blog for details on the guidance provided by the IRS.

US employers are considering many alternatives to address the significant economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One such alternative is putting one or more groups of employees on furlough—a low paid or unpaid leave of absence. However, now more than ever, employers must carefully address health plan coverage during a furlough. See our Legal Update for issues that US employers will need to consider when considering a furlough.