The IRS has now issued a series of forms to enable federal, state, and local governments to assess their compliance with federal tax statutes, and has set forth some common errors found in examining such employers. Several of the forms relate to employee benefits issues, and may be of assistance to governments trying to ensure that they comply with all legal requirements.
The forms are as follows:
For use by Federal, State and Local Government Entities
For use by State and Local Government Entities Only
Phased retirement has become increasingly popular among two groups of employees: those who would like to begin easing away from work at a younger age, and those who need to continue working at older ages but require a less demanding schedule. We recently conducted a webinar to help employers identify the situations in which phased retirement may be beneficial, and structure phased retirement arrangements in such a way as to avoid the practical and legal pitfalls.
The PowerPoint presentation for the webinar is now available at this link.
This post was updated on June 26, 2015 to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
The Treasury Department and the IRS announced on August 29, 2013 that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. On September 18, 2013, the Department of Labor took the same position for purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA“). The announcements and corresponding revenue ruling (Rev. Rul. 2013-17) apply only to marriages legal in the jurisdiction in which performed. They do not apply to civil unions or domestic partnerships. (Of course, parties to a civil union or domestic partnership could still obtain the benefits of the announcement and revenue ruling by getting legally married.) The Treasury and IRS position was later reinforced by the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
Because employee benefit plans are extensively regulated by federal law, this announcement means that all employers will be required to recognize such marriages for many employee benefits purposes. Conversely, employers in states that treat civil unions or domestic partnerships as if they were marriages will nevertheless be forbidden from treating such arrangements as marriages for certain employee benefits purposes. However, the precise impact will depend on whether the plan is subject to ERISA or whether it is a governmental or church plan exempt from ERISA. The chart below sets forth areas in which the announcement will affect the operation of different types of plans.
Judge Steven W. Rhodes of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan had now issued an opinion stating that the bankruptcy proceedings for the City of Detroit can go forward. The opinion provided no special protections for as yet unfunded pension benefits (although benefits already in the pension funds were protected). The judge rejected a contention that Michigan constitutional provisions prohibiting impairment of pensions would provide protection to promised but unfunded benefits.
“No . . . law impairing the obligation of contract shall be enacted.” [Article I, Section 10, Michigan Constitution]
“The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.” [Article IX, Section 24, Michigan Constitution]
Since the publication of this article, Treasury and the IRS have announced that any legal same-sex marriage will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the couple’s home state recognizes the marriage. See this post. The Department of Labor has also issued final regulations under the Family & Medical Leave Act which recognize a marriage, regardless of the couple’s domicile, if a) it occurred within the United States, and it was valid in the state in which it took place, and b) it occurred outside of the United States, if it was valid in the jurisdiction in which it took place and it could have been entered into in at least one state.
Federal law requires that employer plans determine marital status in a variety of contexts, ranging from requirements that ERISA-covered retirement plans provide spousal death benefits (e.g., a qualified joint and survivor annuity, qualified preretirement survivor annuity, or payment of the participant’s account balance to the spouse) to COBRA (health care continuation) rights in the event of a divorce or separation. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, it is clear that a same-sex married couple must be treated the same as an opposite-sex married couple for these purposes. But when will a same-sex couple be treated as married? Weeks after the Windsor decision, the few federal agencies that have issued guidance have taken wildly disparate approaches.
Detroit’s bankruptcy has brought to the fore issues faced by participants in underfunded public (governmental) retirement plans. As explained in an article on CNN, “Just how generous are Detroit’s pensions?”, Detroit’s pension promises as a whole are in line with pensions provided to nongovernmental workers in the area. Nevertheless, as CNN summarizes the situation, “Detroit’s workers and retirees face big cuts.” Why are public workers so vulnerable to the financial troubles of their employers?
After two years in which Social Security tax rates for employees (though not for employers) were reduced, rates returned to normal levels for 2013. Read more
If a state or local government hires new employees not covered by social security after January 1, 2005, it must do the following: Read more