COBRA Subsidy: What We Know Now After Initial DOL Guidance

Less than a month after the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) was signed into law, new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) guidance and model forms are clearing up a number of employer concerns about the 100 percent COBRA coverage subsidy for continuing health benefits that runs from April 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021.

DOL Guidance Clarifies Expiration of COVID-19 Deadline Extension for Employee Benefit Plans

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) published EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 in the nick of time on February 26, 2021. EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 was released just two days before the date that certain benefit plan deadline extensions were potentially expiring. The DOL and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued joint guidance on May 4, 2020, which provided that certain employee benefit plan deadlines for participants would be tolled or suspended during the COVID-19 “Outbreak Period,” which began on March 1, 2020, and which ends 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency. Certain deadlines applying to plan administrators were also tolled last year as set forth in EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01.

COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Coverage Requirements for Group Health Plans and Issuers: New DOL, HHS, and Treasury FAQs

On February 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued guidance entitled “FAQs About Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Implementation Part 44.” The guidance addresses frequently asked questions (FAQs) that stem from the requirements under the FFCRA and CARES Act that group health plans and issuers cover COVID-19 testing (including certain related items and services) and vaccinations without cost sharing during the public health emergency declared by HHS. The declared public health emergency is expected to be in place until at least the end of 2021.

COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives Without the HIPAA Headache

On February 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, issued answers to new frequently asked questions (FAQs) interpreting certain provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This article reviews the portion of the FAQs that directly apply to employer vaccination incentive programs. Previous guidance addressed coverage requirements for COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostic testing.

New COVID-19 Relief Law Includes Full COBRA Premium Subsidy

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which became law on March 11, 2021, provides a 100 percent subsidy of premiums under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) beginning on April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021, with employers to recoup the missing premiums through Medicare tax credits.

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: Top Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Provisions

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The ARPA is the latest installment of COVID-19–related stimulus packages passed by Congress in the last 12 months. Similar to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, the ARPA contains a number of employee benefit plan and executive compensation provisions, which are highlighted below.

Seriously Underfunded Multiemployer Defined Benefit Pension Plans—Relief Finally Arrives

We had pondered when this day would come. The doomsday scenario that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) would become insolvent in five to six years is now old history. (The new estimated time of PBGC insolvency is the mid-2040s.) Plan participants, the plans, employers, unions, and the PBGC had all been patiently waiting for relief—and they have apparently been rewarded with the relief they were seeking.

American Rescue Plan Act Signed: Details on the Latest COVID-19 Relief Package

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. While the legislation marks the first major legislative victory for President Biden and the administration, it is the sixth federal legislative relief package aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The legislation continues some programs established in these previous efforts, but it also adds some important components. Set forth below are some of the major provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act.

401(k) Plans Using Pre-approved Plan Documents Must Be Restated by July 31, 2022

In Announcement 2020-7, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced employers’ deadline by which to adopt new plan documents related to Notice 2017-37. The new announcement informs employers that maintain defined contribution plans (e.g., 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans, and money purchase plans) through the adoption of IRS pre-approved plan documents that they have until July 31, 2022, to adopt the new pre-approved plan documents restated as a result of the changes to the Notice 2017-37 requirements regarding retirement plan qualification, generally known as the 2017 Cumulative List.

Second Draw Paycheck Protection Program Loans: Answers to Employers’ Frequently Asked Questions

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021 includes a provision that modified and extended the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Specifically, Section 311 of the Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief provisions of the CAA provides for PPP second draw loans for eligible businesses. Employers seeking a PPP loan may apply through March 31, 2021. Below are answers to some key questions regarding second draw PPP loans.

Incentivizing (COVID-19) Vaccinations: What Employers Need to Know

As COVID-19 vaccines become available to greater swaths of the population, many employers are considering ways to incentivize employees to get vaccinated. Incentives can take many forms, including extra pay, paid time off, gift cards, or tangible gifts. Employers that offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated may be creating group health plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Puerto Rico Government Plan-to-Private Plan Rollovers Allowed

On January 20, 2021, the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury (Departamento de Hacienda, commonly known as “Hacienda”) issued Administrative Determination No. 21-01 (AD 21-01), which provides that lump-sum distributions from the retirement plan for Puerto Rico government employees are eligible for direct and indirect rollovers into Puerto Rico–qualified retirement plans maintained by private-sector employers. In practice, however, this determination is unlikely to have much of an impact on the operation of private-sector employer plans.

U.S. and Puerto Rico Issue Rules on Non-COVID-19 Disaster Relief for Retirement Plans

Last year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Congress and the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury (Hacienda) granted favorable tax treatment to coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) and participant loans from U.S.-qualified plans and Puerto Rico-qualified plans, respectively. Recently, both jurisdictions extended similar tax treatment to certain distributions, hardship withdrawals, and plan loans related to non-COVID-19 disasters.

Consolidated Appropriations Act Underscores Mental Health Parity Compliance

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021, enacted late in 2020, imposes a new requirement on group health plans to ensure compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Unlike many of the other provisions of the CAA that affect group health plans, the MHPAEA requirement under CAA section 203 goes into effect very soon—on February 10, 2021.

Dealing With Missing Participants in Terminating Puerto Rico 401(k) Plans

For a host of legal and practical reasons, the only feasible alternative for disposing of the accounts of missing participants in a terminating 401(k) or other defined contribution retirement plan qualified only in Puerto Rico (commonly known as a “P.R.-only plan”) is, after making reasonable efforts to locate the missing participants, depositing with the proper state unclaimed property fund(s) the retirement money of those participants who cannot be located.

EEOC Issues Long-Awaited Proposed Wellness Program Rules

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued its revamped proposed rules governing employer-sponsored wellness programs. These proposed rules have been a long time coming, with the EEOC’s prior rules on the topic having been invalidated by a court and then partially revoked. In this current proposal, the EEOC has issued two separate sets of regulations: one under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and one under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021: Updates to Paycheck Protection Program

On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law Congress’s spending bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021, which included the Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief (ACRR) provisions that modified the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP, a loan program designed to provide a direct incentive to businesses to retain their employees, was enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. PPP borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness if the funds are used for eligible payroll and non-payroll costs.

Use It, but Don’t Lose It: New Stimulus Law Extends Time to Spend Down 2020 Health FSA and Dependent Care Balances

Employers will now have additional options to address participants’ unspent contributions to dependent care or health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133, P.L. 116-260), signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides temporary relief for employees that were unable to spend down their dependent care and health FSAs by the end of the plan year and may otherwise forfeit these contributions.

Reductions in Force and Partial Plan Terminations: Another Potential 2020 ‘Gotcha’

Employers in all industries have faced unprecedented business challenges during 2020, and responding to those challenges has often entailed adjustments to the size and composition of workforces through targeted or broader-based reductions in force. As we finally face the end of this seemingly interminable year, it is important to consider some of the less-obvious consequences of reductions in force on tax-qualified retirement plans. In particular, a frequent “gotcha” for employers that have made significant workforce reductions during a year (or, in some cases, over a period of years) is the so-called “partial plan termination.” Failing to spot a partial plan termination can lead to costly and time-consuming plan repair work, but if an employer is alert to the circumstances in which one can occur, the potential pain of a partial plan termination can be readily avoided.

Public Company Nonqualified Plan Amendments May Be Required by December 31: The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again

The Internal Revenue Code is famously complicated, and changes to discrete parts of the code—such as those adopted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA)—have a notorious history of leading to unpredictable and unintended consequences. One such consequence may require prompt action by publicly-traded companies to mitigate the impact of a common provision in nonqualified deferred compensation plans relating to the limitations on deductions for excess compensation paid to top executives.

401(k) Plan Sponsors—Do You Need to Start Tracking Hours for Your Part-Time Employees?

At the end of 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which included a number of changes to employer-sponsored retirement plans. One change involved expanding the ability of long-term, part-time employees to make 401(k) deferral contributions. While this change becomes effective in 2024, employers that apply an eligibility service requirement to determine whether employees can contribute to a 401(k) plan must begin tracking hours of service for part-time employees beginning January 1, 2021.

The SEC’s Enhanced Human Capital Disclosure Requirement: What Companies Should Know

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced a new human capital disclosure requirement for public companies to “reflect the many changes in our capital markets and the domestic and global economy in recent decades.” Over the past several years, human capital has become increasingly important to investors. “Human capital” generally refers to the value of a company’s workforce, which is often influenced by a company’s policies and procedures related to recruitment, retention, training, development, health and safety, diversity and inclusion, and culture. Investors see human capital as an essential component in creating long-term shareholder value and have increasingly prioritized strong human capital practices.

Puerto Rico–Qualified Retirement Plans: 2020 Year-End Amendments Deadline Coming Soon

All of the recent changes to the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules of Section 401(a)(9) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, except for provisions related to the handling of tax-free rollovers, may be applied to Puerto Rico participants in dual-qualified plans (i.e., U.S.-qualified retirement plans that cover both U.S. and Puerto Rico employees) exactly as they are applied to U.S. participants. Puerto Rico participants are, therefore, eligible for the recently extended required beginning date and may waive taking RMDs for 2020.