With just days to go before the new year, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, into law on December 29, 2022, which includes the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 (“SECURE 2.0”). SECURE 2.0 expands on and, in some cases, modifies changes to the laws governing retirement plans brought about by the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act of 2019 (the “2019 SECURE Act”). Key provisions of SECURE 2.0 that amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) include a mandatory automatic enrollment and escalation feature for new Section 401(k) and 403(b) plans starting in 2025, updated required beginning dates for taking required minimum distributions, an expansion of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”), and more “Rothification” of savings opportunities for retirement plan participants. Plan amendments under SECURE 2.0 are generally required by the last day of the first plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2025 for single-employer plans. SECURE 2.0 also directs the Department of Labor (“DOL”) and IRS to issue various new regulations in accordance with its provisions. This blog post summarizes some of the key features of SECURE 2.0.
A Sigh of Relief: FAQs Confirm Relief for “Good Faith” Effort to Comply with New Prescription Drug Reporting Mandate
As summarized in our prior post, on November 23, 2021, the Personnel Management Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the Health and Human Services Department issued interim final rules setting forth directives for implementing a new prescription drug reporting mandate under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 116-260). On June 29, 2022, updated submission instructions describing the reporting process were released. The first deadline to comply with the new rules was December 27, 2022. Under that guidance, it was still unclear whether the relevant departments intended to provide general relief for plans and issuers that made good-faith efforts to comply with the new law.
On December 23, 2022, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury issued FAQs addressing this question directly.…
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The Time has Come for New Prescription Drug Reporting Mandate
In response to the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs, the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 116-260) introduced a new prescription drug reporting mandate intended to make prescription drug pricing more transparent and to assist the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services with preparing a biannual, publicly available report on prescription drug pricing. The first of these extensive reports is due on December 27, 2022.…
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DOL Finalizes Rule Regarding ESG Investing and Proxy Voting by Plan Fiduciaries
On November 22, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a regulation entitled “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights” (the “Final Rule”). The Final Rule follows proposed rules regarding ESG investing and proxy voting by plan fiduciaries, issued on October 14, 2021 (the “Proposed Rule”) and amends prior regulations on the same topic issued by the DOL under President Trump in 2020 (the “2020 Rule”).
In the Final Rule, the DOL repeatedly emphasized that the regulation was primarily aimed at removing and remedying the chilling effect on ESG investing by plan fiduciaries created by the 2020 Rule. While the Final Rule takes a more permissive stance on the consideration of climate change and other ESG factors in investment decisions by plan fiduciaries than the 2020 Rule, the DOL cautioned that a plan fiduciary should not subordinate the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries to any collateral benefits (i.e., ESG objectives).
The Final Rule largely tracks the Proposed Rule, with a few notable exceptions summarized below.…
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U.S. Department of Labor Weighs in on Cybersecurity for ERISA Plans
On April 14th, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL“) issued cybersecurity guidance to plan sponsor and fiduciaries, recordkeepers and other service providers and participants and beneficiaries of plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”). The guidance is presented in three separate parts: Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices, Cybersecurity Program Best Practices and Online Security Tips for Participants and Beneficiaries.
Over the past ten years, cybersecurity has become an area of critical importance to plan sponsors, plan administrators and plan participants. With plans holding trillions in assets as well as sensitive participant information, retirement accounts have been attractive targets for cyber-enabled fraud. Plan participants are known to check their retirement account balances less frequently than personal banking, credit card or other financial accounts. As a result, there can be a delay before attacks on retirement accounts are discovered, making tracing and recovery efforts exceptionally difficult. Plans also permit electronic access to funds and rely upon outside service providers, which provide additional access points for breach. There is a growing body of litigation involving participants who have suffered retirement plan losses due to cyberattacks. Bartnett v. Abbott Laboratories, No. 20-cv-02127 (ND Ill., 2020) (motion to dismiss participant suit against plan sponsor and administrator granted, but denied with respect to third party record-keeper); Leventhal v. The MandMarblestone Group LLC, No. 18-cv-2727 (ED PA, 2019) (motion to dismiss suit by plan sponsor and participant against third party administrator denied); and Berman v. Estee Lauder, No. 4:19-cv-06489 (ND CA, 2019) (participant suit against plan sponsor, committee and third party record-keeper settled).…
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Key Takeaways From The DOL’s “Best Practices” Missing Participant Guidance
All too often, retirement plan administrators and benefits attorneys encounter situations with missing participants or uncashed checks that result in head scratching and exasperation. It is difficult to believe that trying to deliver money to someone could produce such frustration, but it happens more than one would think. In an attempt to alleviate some of these woes and help ensure that participants and their beneficiaries receive the retirement benefits due to them, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) came out with three related pieces of guidance on January 12, 2021: (1) a set of Best Practices for Pension Plans (the “Best Practices”), describing steps that plan fiduciaries can take to reduce missing participant issues; (2) Compliance Assistance Release No. 2021-01, outlining the investigative approach that guides the DOL’s regional offices under its Terminated Vested Participants Project; and (3) Field Assistance Bulletin 2021-01, authorizing fiduciaries of terminating defined contribution plans to transfer missing participants’ account balances to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) Missing Participants Program as a matter of temporary enforcement policy. This blog post highlights key points from the Best Practices and focuses on practical tips plan fiduciaries can take away from the DOL guidance.
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DOL Announces Non-Enforcement Policy of Recent ESG and Proxy Voting Rules
On March 10, 2021 the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released a policy statement that it will not enforce or otherwise pursue enforcement actions against a fiduciary for failing to comply with the “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” regulation published on November 13, 2020 (the “ESG Rule”) and the “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” regulation, published on December 16, 2020 (the “Proxy Voting Rule”). Both regulations were promulgated by the DOL shortly before the Biden administration took office. In the recent policy statement, the DOL stated that certain stakeholders, including asset managers, plan sponsors and consumer groups have expressed concern over whether these rules accurately reflect a fiduciary’s duties under ERISA and appropriately consider the utility of environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors in making investment decisions. As a result, the DOL intends to “revisit” each of these rules.
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After One Year, the Outbreak Period is Ongoing – What’s a Plan Sponsor to Do?
Last year, the Department of Labor (working in concert with other agencies) issued two notices extending a variety of benefit plan deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, as discussed in detail in our May 2020 blog. The relief generally provided that, in determining deadlines, the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or such other date announced by the agencies (also known as the “Outbreak Period”) would be disregarded. However—and notably—the Outbreak Period was generally subject to the one-year duration limitation set forth in Section 518 of ERISA.
If the “one-year duration limitation” had in all cases begun on March 1, 2020, that one year would have already come and gone, even while the COVID-19 national emergency continues. But the DOL has now, by way of EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, issued further guidance that provides for an individualized application of the one-year duration limitation.…
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The Department of Labor’s ESG-less Final ESG Rule
On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released its final regulation (“Final Rule”) relating to a fiduciary’s consideration of environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors when making investment decisions for plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”). In response to the proposed rule (the “Proposal”), the DOL received several thousand comments, the vast majority of which opposed the new rule. Many plan sponsors and investment professionals voiced objection to the Proposal’s antipathy towards the consideration of ESG factors. In the Final Rule, the DOL generally softened its stance toward the consideration of economic ESG factors, but …
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To Vote, or Not to Vote, That is the Question
On September 4, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued a proposed rule regarding a plan fiduciary’s duties with respect to shareholder rights appurtenant to shares of stock held by an ERISA plan (the “Proposal”). ERISA requires that a plan fiduciary carry out its duties prudently and solely in the interests of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and beneficiaries and defraying the reasonable expenses of administering the plan.
The DOL originally articulated its position that ERISA’s fiduciary duties extend to the voting rights of stock in an opinion letter published in 1988 (commonly known as the “Avon Letter”). Since that time, the DOL has provided additional sub-regulatory guidance in the form of Interpretive Bulletins and Field Assistance Bulletins. Much like the DOL’s guidance on ESG investing, the DOL’s guidance in this area has shifted in focus with each presidential administration; however, a published regulation, subject to review and comment like the Proposal, would be more difficult to overturn by a future administration if finalized.
The DOL’s previous guidance issued in 2016 generally encouraged the voting of proxies by plan fiduciaries, other than in certain limited circumstances. In contrast, the Proposal warns that a fiduciary can only vote proxies that it prudently determines to have an “economic impact on the plan after the costs of research and voting are taken into account.”…
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