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As previously discussed, faced with substantial budget cuts, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has announced that it is eliminating most determination letters (letters concerning the qualified status of retirement plans, which gives rise to numerous tax benefits), effective December 31, 2016. (Announcement 2015-19.) In the past, individually designed retirement plans were able to obtain a determination letter once every five years, during a cycle provided by the IRS. The most likely new regime will involve making determination letters on individually designed plans available only when a plan is first adopted, or when it is terminated. Between those dates, the only way to ensure qualification is likely to be to adopt annual updates put out by the IRS that will include model wording for amendments.
For entities that maintain a retirement plan, the new regime may mean that they discover qualification issues only on audit, when it is too late to fix the issue. And the potential penalties on audit (for the employer, the trust under the plan, and the employees) are, as set forth in a prior article, huge. What steps should a plan administrator take to ensure the qualification of a plan after that point? Read more.
On July 21, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Announcement 2015-19, in which it announced that it would be making substantial changes to the determination letter program intended to allow retirement plan sponsors to ensure that their plans are qualified (eligible for tax benefits). This announcement will affect all retirement plans intended to be qualified, but will create particular issues for plans maintained by governmental employers (“governmental plans”). Read more.
When the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans in Obergefell v. Hodges, one of the questions raised was the extent to which couples married before the date of the decision could sue their employers for failing to recognize their marriages for employee benefits purposes. A class action lawsuit filed by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (“GLAD”) and the nonprofit Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs today, Jacqueline Cote, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., tests that question, arguing that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”) should be liable for failing to recognize an employee’s marriage for periods before the date of the Obergefell decision. Read more.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. For employers, this decision raises the issue of what changes must be made in employee benefits to reflect the decision.
For this purpose, we will look at three categories of employers: those that have already been offering benefits to same-sex spouses, those that have not previously offered benefits to same-sex spouses, and those that have been offering benefits to domestic partners. Read more.
In light of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, employers that maintain plans covering employees in same-sex marriages who live in any of the states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriage will have to adjust state tax withholding and reporting for such employees. State Taxes and Married Same-Sex Couples Before Obergefell provides a handy chart for determining which states are affected.
Federal law contains provisions forbidding discrimination based on several classifications: race, sex, veteran status, etc. However, no federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. As a result, many employers in states which do not have their own legislation barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status have assumed that no laws prohibited such discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has now called this assumption into question, by bringing several lawsuits treating discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status as a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This issue is a focus of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013-2016. Read more.
Many state laws provide that an individual who commits a felony related to his or her official duties will forfeit benefits under the state retirement system. It is clear that such provisions in a pension plan are permissible if they were included in a pension plan on its adoption, or if they apply only to employees hired after the provision was adopted. However, two states (New York and California) have recently struggled with the issue of whether such a provision can be effective with respect to employees hired before the adoption of the provision. Read more.
What should a retirement plan sponsor do if it discovers that it has overpaid benefits to a retiree or other former employee? The question has recently arisen in the case of the pension plan of Pontiac, Michigan, which accidentally overpaid many of its retirees an average of $1,000 over a 16-month period. Read more.
The Pension Research Council of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has done a study on the effects of Utah’s change in its pension system. Before the change, employees participated in a defined benefit plan. Employees hired after the change were given a choice between a hybrid (defined benefit/defined contribution) plan or a straight defined contribution plan. Those who failed to make a choice were automatically assigned to the hybrid plan. In general, either of the new plans was less generous than the old defined benefit plan.
In general, the Pension Research Council found that employees hired after the change had greater turnover than those hired before the change. Moreover, those electing into the hybrid plan were more likely to stay with the employer than those electing into the defined contribution plan. Those who defaulted into the hybrid plan had the highest turnover.
The Pension Research Council concluded that while the change may have saved the state money in pension costs, “public pension reformers must consider employee responses, in addition to potential cost savings, when developing and enacting major pension plan changes.”